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Tilt-Up Provides Building Solutions for Today’s Churches

By: Jim Baty
Tilt-Up Construction Association

Today’s congregations face many of the same building challenges homeowners and businesses face
– rising cost and availability of land, increasing construction costs, and high maintenance costs. To counter these obstacles, it is essential to select a construction method for new facilities that is both cost-effective during construction and has low long-term costs. Site cast Tilt-Up has proven attributes of durability and low maintenance costs. Design and construction of religious facilities requires a delicate balance of speed, economy and creativity. Tilt-Up has met this challenge through its ability to provide architectural freedom, durability and security, as well as efficient and cost-effective solutions for today’s churches.


With the goal of having the chapel look like the community was built around it, tabby stucco was chosen as the building material for the 4,519- square-foot Bishop Gadsen spiritual building in Charleston, S.C. This material was used by early settlers to build walls and piers and was produced from oyster shells, sand and water. Tilt-Up was selected for this project because it was the only feasible system for constructing the walls with the tabby stucco texture. Further, Tilt-Up provided structural stability in an environment at substantial risk from both hurricane and seismic events.

To develop a technique to create the tabby stucco texture, the team, including the Tilt-Up subcontractor, Citadel Contractors of Apex, N.C, and Wando, S.C., brainstormed and tested mockup panels. The solution consisted of hand-stacking the oyster shells in a three-eighths-inch thick sand-bed and using white cement to bond the shells in a textured layer, and then constructing the structural layer. To create the joints in a manner characteristic of cut stone, 1.5-inch deep reveals beveled at 12.5 degrees were used. Toothed joints were necessary to create the cut stone quoins at the two outside steeple corners. Each joint has nineteen teeth over a 42-foot, 11- inch height.

The color scheme for the project is dominated by the various shades of natural white oyster shells with a white lime wash over exposed concrete. The steeple walls are smooth concrete patterned to simulate cut stone with quoined corners. Tall, slender arched windows are dressed in exposed concrete cut stone trim. Receiving tremendous attention, the project has been recognized in the local paper, The Post and Courier, which noted how Tilt-Up allowed for a durable structure and fast delivery. This project demonstrates the versatility and creativity that designers have when employing the Tilt-Up method.


A new building for St. Julia’s Catholic Church in Siler City, N.C., was originally designed as a load- bearing masonry structure. But when the shape and height of the walls presented budget and constructability issues, the architect converted the project to Tilt-Up. Changing the design to include load-bearing insulating panels gave designers the freedom they needed to construct the 11,000-square- foot facility while resolving budget concerns.

The owner and architect’s vision for St. Julia’s was a Southwestern mission-style church, including a classic mission bell tower. Because one wall of the bell tower was designed to be sloped, traditional masonry could not accommodate the plan without expensive structural steel backup. The project’s Tilt-Up contractor, Centurion Construction Company of Raleigh, N.C., cast panels for the bell tower, which resulted in time and money savings.

Space was very limited on the site, so all the panels were constructed either on the floor slab or on small casting beds. Still, this solution did not allow for enough space, so panels were stack cast and built in the proper erection sequence.

To create a visual appeal for the facility, heavy architectural reveals were used for shadow, and textured paint was used to resemble a plaster finish. Engineered wood beams and a tongue-and-groove wood ceiling in the sanctuary create a striking interior. Stained glass windows add a unique element to the facility. The bell tower is comprised of panels with one laid on the other to create the appearance that the tower is leaning. And, the use of insulated concrete panels allowed the owner to have the desired look while receiving cost and energy savings.

With a new facility in place, St. Julia’s experienced the success Tilt-Up can bring to a project. With the use of Tilt-Up, St. Julia’s new building construction remained under budget and fulfilled the architect and owner’s vision.


A dream-come-true for the congregation of St. Sarkis Armenian Church in Charlotte, N.C., the new 15,000-square-foot facility utilized Tilt-Up because the method could provide a faux stone finish, reduce construction costs and offer thermal efficiency through insulated panels. In fact, Tilt-Up provided the only viable option for the aesthetic features the congregation desired for their new building.

The church congregation wanted their new facility to resemble the tuffa stone native to Armenia, but
a true stone building would have doubled the cost of construction, and an EFIS solution would not have provided the desired durability. To create the stone look, more than 10,000 feet of reveals create decorative patterns in the concrete that mimic a stone building. Lining up the reveals from panel to panel to create the natural stone look was essential in keeping the symmetrical patterns that give the church its unique stone finish. A customized paint color was designed for the building’s exterior to match the Armenian stone. Three colors of Stone Tex, which is a version of Tex- Cote paint, were used to give the illusion of texture.

Adding to the architectural composition of the building are arched openings created using Styrofoam blocks to cut the proper radius. The arched windows and entrances add to the church’s many distinctive aesthetic features.

Not only does this project represent architectural achievements, it also exemplifies a contractor’s ability to overcome construction obstacles. Before construction could begin, the building’s location on the construction site had to be changed. This resulted in many changes, including the Tilt-Up panel sequence, crane access and blueprint modifications. After many delays, construction was finally ready to begin just as winter arrived in Charlotte. The excessive cold weather that Charlotte’s winter season brought proved to be a challenge in pouring concrete. The concrete pours needed to be rescheduled many times, but precautions were taken on days the team was able to pour the concrete. Hot water was used in the concrete mixes, and curing blankets were used to cover the concrete and protect it from freezing temperatures.

To minimize drilling and cutting of the concrete, boxes for electrical wiring devices were installed in the panels during the casting process. In addition to the wiring boxes, all electric features, switches, lights and alarms were placed into the panels to avoid cutting them into the panels, which saved the congregation time and money. Located on a tight site, casting beds took up much of the construction location, so precise coordination of the casting bed placement and the panel erection sequence was necessary. Other trades also used the casting beds for lay-down staging areas and fabrication because the construction site was so wet from rain.

Contractor Seretta Construction Mid-Atlantic of Charlotte erected 40 Tilt-Up panels, with the tallest panel reaching 39 feet, 3 inches high. The largest panel weighs approximately 81,600 pounds. The panels measure 11.25 inches, with 3 inches for the outer wythe, 2 inches of insulation and 6.25 inches of structural concrete. The two inches of insulation placed in the panels create an R-11 value, which will minimize operating costs for the church. The interior sides of the panels are exposed concrete and are finished with a flecked hard-trowel finish, avoiding costs associated with interior metal studs, insulation and gypsum board.

Since the construction of the new facility for St. Sarkis, individuals have driven from as far away as Charleston, S.C., to be part of this church. Some families have even relocated to Charlotte to worship at St. Sarkis. The synergy and creativity used in the construction process give the church congregation the unique building look they desired. The faux stone finish not only stands out in Charlotte, but also is recognized as an achievement in the Tilt-Up community.


Religious facilities are important to maintaining a strong community. Offering the attributes of durability, long-term value and aesthetics, Tilt- Up construction appeals to the sense of value and fiscal accountability required to manage a religious institution. Further, the inherent excitement that surrounds the lifting of Tilt-Up panels is something that the entire congregation can enjoy.

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TILT-UP TODAY, a publication of the Tilt-Up Concrete Association, is THE source for Tilt-Up industry news, market intelligence, business strategies, technical solutions, product information, and other resources for professionals in the Tilt-Up industry. A subscription to TILT-UP TODAY is included in a TCA membership. Subscriptions for potential TCA members are also available. If you would like to receive a complimentary subscription to the publication, please contact the TCA.