The following document was prepared at the request of Mother Center to provide a narrative explanation, from the perspective of Escondido Center, for moving forward with plans for a new chapel and overall improvement to our site. This narrative was submitted to SRF Planning and Building Department in mid-May, along with floor plans, elevations, and 3D drawings of the new chapel proposal approved by our membership.
Escondido Center has experienced 25 years of significant growth from its small but devotional origin with two meditation circles in Valley Center and Escondido. These organizations merged to form Escondido Meditation Group, which continued growing as many long-term members from Los Angeles-area temples were drawn to this area because of its beauty, affordability, and proximity to Encinitas and San Diego Temples and Hidden Valley Ashram.
After moving in 2002 to its current site at 1299 Scenic Drive, Escondido Meditation Group was designated a Center, and its name was changed to Escondido Center of Self-Realization Fellowship. The Center is centrally located on a 2.2-acre site near the intersection of Hwy 78 and Interstate 15.
In 2007 Center members began considering the requirements and possible conceptual designs for expanding and beautifying the facility. These early efforts, though insufficiently organized to sustain momentum, indicated the concern for Escondido Center’s growth and forecast the need for a sustained, thoughtfully structured effort to plan for the future.
In 2012 the SRF Planning and Building Department asked the Center to evaluate expected growth and overall facility needs for the next 10 to 15 years. The committee completed its assessment in May of 2013 using:
- Historical EMC Sunday attendance data,
- EMC membership survey,
- The Self Realization Fellowship Planning and Building Department (PBD) membership ZIP code analysis,
- The PBD membership growth study, and
- EMC Managing Council growth analysis based on SANDAG regional 30-year projections.
The growth study forecast expansion of average Sunday attendance from 75 to more than 150, with proportional growth in Sunday school attendance, special services, long meditations, and fellowship events. It projected new members from Riverside county, inland San Diego county, and inmigration from increasingly expensive coastal areas. Not only are these areas the fastest growing areas in southern California, but the growing interest in the SRF “How to Live” principles and meditation within that population, point to growth beyond demographic studies. The Escondido Center is also receiving growing attendance from members who had usually attended either Encinitas or San Diego temples.
The center’s needs call for a balanced facility expansion that supports and helps build a larger congregation. The configuration of the expanded chapel and other elements must allow for a future large room for multi-purpose functions to complement the stand-alone sanctuary. Balanced facility expansion must be within a revised master plan. Elements include:
- Chapel seating
- Sunday School, Nursery, and Teen capacity
- Restroom accommodations
- Social and special events capacity
Initially, the Center explored the feasibility of expanding the current chapel to accommodate an additional 30 seats. A search committee also looked into buying a larger facility. However, the cost of available church sites was prohibitive – it ranged from $2.3 million to $7.5 million for properties that were either in non-ideal locations or were not appropriate for SRF activities. The costs would escalate significantly when including preparation of this existing SRF property for sale; paying new property inspection fees, realtor fees, significant renovation costs, and moving fees. Although no formal vote was taken, the congregation was not in favor of moving.
EMC determined the permissions and constraints in the codes and regulations of the current Conditional Use Permit (CUP) issued by the City of Escondido. Modifying the existing building triggered all these requirements (ADA, Restroom expansion, Fire, Emergency lighting, Earthquake, Foundation modifications for the chapel, etc.). These costs, while staying within the 10% allowed footprint for expansion with the existing CUP did not represent good value for cost.
The center formed the Site Improvement Working Group, composed of 15 members of the congregation representing all functions of the Center. This group explored enlarging the existing chapel to seat 160 with a modified CUP. Even this larger expansion with the required rest rooms taking away a Sunday School room, violated balanced expansion. Displacement of services during chapel renovation proved to be an additional problem without an easy solution acceptable to the congregation.
The center compared detailed estimates of renovating the current facility to seat 160, meeting all codes, versus new construction of a stand-alone facility of equal size and identical architecture with restrooms and flower room. The costs estimated for both in early 2014 were equivalent: $1.5 million.
Therefore, based on the growth needs of the Escondido Center, the guidance from the city to pursue a modified CUP, the support of the EMC congregation, and the guidance and support of the SRF Planning and Building Department, the center’s Site Improvement Working Group developed an overall building site plan that included:
- Stand-alone chapel with expandable seating from 160 to 224,
- Chapel design promoting meditation, intimacy and closeness to the altar,
- Large foyer, Overflow room, Restrooms, Flower and Cleaning room,
- Large patio with additional outdoor overflow seating for at least 44,
- Functional integration with existing facilities,
- Existing building upgrades to HVAC, Sunday School rooms, and kitchen,
- Escondido city required construction of carports for rentals,
- Security and beautification upgrades with a new front and side fence, entryway and gate,
- Beautification of the façade of the existing main building and roof of the Book Room building,
- Phasing and rough estimates for near term construction and a conceptual sketch for a future expanded multipurpose room,
- Design costs that meet the constraints of the Escondido center.
The overall site improvement will be constructed in multiple phases, beginning with new construction of the stand-alone chapel building. Landscaping of the grounds will follow. Finally, when required by membership growth, new Sunday School rooms, kitchen, a multi-purpose room, and an outdoor assembly area will be built.