For parents who’ve outlived a child, it’s hard to find people who can relate. Friends, counselors and clergy – despite their best intentions – can’t fully understand the sense of loss if they’ve not shared the same experience.
This is the reason that "While We’re Waiting" was formed in Hot Springs, Ark., just southwest of Little Rock. It’s a faith-based retreat facility for bereaved parents, with a special focus on spending time with people who carry the same tragic burden.
Brad and Jill Sullivan lost their daughter, Hannah, to cancer in 2009. After a courageous battle with the illness, she passed away at 17 years of age.
Larry and Janice Brown lost their adult son Adam in 2010. As a member of Navy SEAL Team Six, he was killed in action in Afghanistan. A New York Times best-selling book has been written about Adam, titled, "Fearless: The Undaunted Courage and Ultimate Sacrifice of Navy SEAL Team SIX Operator Adam Brown" by Eric Blehm.
“Through our own struggles, we realized that there are plenty of opportunities for grief counseling, but no place to share time with other bereaved parents,” explained Larry Brown. “Celebrating our child’s life, while sharing the hope we have in Jesus, is the greatest source of healing. Visitors talk openly about the lives of their child, and we share the belief that we will be re-united. The retreat is a source of consolation and hope, while we’re waiting for that day.”
The two couples – the Browns and the Sullivans – founded the retreat in 2011. They quickly learned two things. First, it doesn’t matter how a child dies, how old they were, or how long ago they were taken from this world. The pain that parents feel is very much the same.
Second, there’s a much greater need for this type of ministry than they had imagined. Attendance quickly outgrew the small facilities they were renting or borrowing to host the weekend-long events. So they began looking at ways to build their own facility.
A worthy undertaking
“The need was there but the money simply wasn’t,” said Larry Brown, who’s an electrician by trade. “After a time of praying, seeking counsel and pledges of support from church members and friends, we took a leap of faith in mid-2015.”
Acting as the general contractor and electrician, Larry – with loads of help from his wife and the Sullivans – began the process of building the new retreat. An old house on his family’s property offered a starting point. John McMorran, an architect with Lewis Architects and Engineers, donated his time to design the 8,000 square-foot retreat. He estimated the cost at $1 million.
Between the Brown and Sullivan families, friends, fellow church members and local businesses generously donating time, money and materials, the walls were up within a few months. The envelope was spray-foam insulated as protection from winter’s worst, and central Arkansas’ stifling summers.
During the early construction phase, Larry Brown was working with Jason Vincent, owner of Grisham AireCare, a 49-year-old, 18-person heating and cooling company. Their goal was to design an HVAC system for the retreat that would provide affordable upfront and operating costs without sacrificing occupant comfort and individual bedroom control.
Based on the sprawling, single-story floorplan and broad range of room sizes, Vincent quickly suggested the use of a ductless system. But he wanted to speak with specialists at nearby Sanders Supply to determine if the application would be ideal for Fujitsu’s new J-II single-phase Airstage VRF system.
“I’ve had a personal and professional relationship with Jason for years,” said Larry Brown. “We’re members of the same church, and I know firsthand that Grisham AireCare’s quality of work is second to none. When he offered to help with the heating and cooling system, we jumped at the opportunity.”
Brown and Vincent toured the design-build project with Mike McMinn, of Sanders Supply, to gauge a best approach for the heating and cooling system.
“After determining the overall design goals, insulation factors, window/door types and sizes, minimum and maximum expected occupancy, proposed equipment locations, and fresh air intake factors, I used the Fujitsu Portal and Design Simulator tools to choose and lay out the equipment, piping, and electrical plans for Grisham AireCare,” said McMinn. “This is a service that Sanders Supply provides for our Airstage customers.”
Based on the length of line sets needed, McMinn wanted to use a VRF system instead of mini-split units. With only 208/230V power available at the site, the unexpectedly small J-II was a good fit.
The new, 19-SEER units would be used to heat and cool the facility’s 10 bedrooms, kitchen and common areas. In the existing portion of the building – a 2,000 square foot house – the original ducted heat pump system would remain in place for the time being.
Grisham AireCare technicians installed the VRF system over two weeks in July and August of 2016. Three condensers – a three-, four-, and five-ton – were installed outside, on-grade. Inside, 15 evaporators of various sizes serve bedrooms, a main hallway, dining and assembly areas, and the commercial kitchen.
“Running line sets through an attic in July is never fun, but the whole process went quickly,” said Jeremy Austin, manager of Grisham AireCare’s installation department. “Because the J-II uses refrigerant headers instead of branch boxes, the job was easier and much faster than if we’d have used mini-splits, or ductwork for that matter.”
“We’ve installed Airstage VRF systems on commercial projects before, but this was our first experience with the single-phase system,” continued Austin. “I’d like to begin using it to replace standard heat pumps for homeowners that want a flexible, high efficiency solution.”
Under Budget, Exceeded Expectations
The building was complete 18 months after construction began. Because of the generous support of the community, family and friends, the Browns and Sullivans had invested $400,000 into the project, a full $600,000 under the projected cost.
Jason and others at Grisham AireCare were extremely generous with their time and talent,” said Brown. “Their work is beautiful and the feedback from guests is all positive.”
The new system was turned on in August, though construction was still in progress. Over the next two months, it cost $300/month to condition the space. Throughout the winter, heating expenses accounted for $600/month. But in both cases, that cost included the energy used by the existing heat pump system that still serves the original portion of the building – well below projected operational cost. The old system has since been replaced by an additional VRF system.
“We’re very grateful that we’re able to minister and share with people in need,” said Larry Brown. “The retreat is booked solid through 2017, and we’ve already spoken with Grisham AireCare about the possibility of replacing the old heat pump.
The facility has exceeded every expectation,” he concluded. “We see now, every day, how it enables our desire to share the blessing with others.”