FAITH

Renovating a pioneer temple: Inside the process of updating the Salt Lake Temple

Oct 3, 2021, 12:00 PM | Updated: Oct 4, 2021, 11:55 am
salt lake temple renovation...
Scaffolding sits atop the eastern spires of the Salt Lake Temple during renovation work. Salt Lake City August 11, 2021. (Colby Walker KSL NewsRadio)
(Colby Walker KSL NewsRadio)

SALT LAKE CITY — The renovation of the Salt Lake Temple is now in its 22nd month. And this incredibly huge project is moving along in every way toward connecting the past with the present and with the future.

The foundation of the Salt Lake temple

Right now about 16 feet of the foundation of the temple is exposed.

“That’s beautiful 1850s work right down there,” said Andy Kirby, the director of historic temple renovations for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

He stood in front of the area in late September to talk about the work ongoing at the temple site.

Kirby feels a connection to the past when he looks at the exposed foundation. He knows the pioneers struggled to plant crops and build their lives while facing multiple challenges.

Builders covered the foundation during the Utah War in 1857-58, making the area look like a plowed field. When they dug it back out again, they saw where they could improve and added granite to the top.

“What we see there, is it is still sandstone. We know they improved the masonry. You can see the quality of the masonry is significantly different,” said Kirby. “We have now exposed that beautiful work. That foundation has stood for 168 years, and it has performed beautifully.”

Most of the work done for the first two years of this project has been excavation work to get to the foundation. Now they can work on strengthening it to make it last even longer.

“I like to think we are holding hands with the pioneer constructors, and taking what they did, and improving what they did with the technology we have,” said Kirby. “This is a beautiful, beautiful symbol of past, present and future.”

 

Seismic upgrades reinforce the temple

The temple is getting major seismic improvements.

The strengthening process is called “jack and bore.” 40 foot steel pipes, up to 4 feet in diameter, are being pushed slowly underneath the building below the foundation. Crews remove soil, rock and gravel from inside the pipe by hand with mining carts as they push the pipes in farther.

Workers fill the pipes with high-strength concrete, reinforced steel, and post-tensioning strands. They fill the gap between the outside of the pipe and the surrounding soil with grout.

Ninety-two of these pipes will support the temple foundation.

Scaffolding surrounds the building so they can access the whole perimeter at once.

Work continues from bottom to top

Kirby said workers will repair the stone and mortar. They will also repair the windows and install new windows for thermal protection and sound resistance.

Then there’s all the work going on at the top of the building.

“We’re going to be removing a lot of stones over the next year, and we will put those stones back on, but we will put them back on with steel pins and steel frame systems so that holds the top of the temple together better,” he said.

Kirby described how they will tie the top of the temple all the way to the bottom; they will drill through the stone and insert large cables to post-tension it.

It is a non-reinforced stone structure. They are adding reinforcement to it with steel trusses in the roof. Workers proceed with great care, opening up the bays one at a time and covering anything that is exposed underneath with a swimming pool cover-type mechanism.

“The temple itself will be more rigid in an earthquake, and then we base isolate the bottom so we separate it from the earth. So when an earthquake happens, the temple moves less while the ground moves,” Kirby said.

Increased capacity after Salt Lake Temple renovation complete

Workers have excavated the north side of the temple three stories deep. This will become the new addition, replacing what was built in the 1960s.

It took a while to decommission the buildings, then abate all the hazardous materials that had been in there.

Kirby pointed out the shoring around the perimeter, the soldier piles and beams, and the lagging process to hold the soil back around the pit.

In October and November they plan to work on the footings and foundation, and then start building up.

Having it three stories will greatly expand the use of the temple, said Kirby.

“You need almost all of that space to accommodate the groups and the session sizes that you hope to accommodate,” he said.

That includes two baptistries, 23 sealing rooms and five endowment or instruction rooms.

Other new features

Crews mined a tunnel underneath North Temple, connecting to the parking garage of the Conference Center. It will become a hallway that is an extension of the temple.

“Patrons in the future will be able to park and walk through the tunnel at that level, which will be lower level two. They then will be able to choose between the east or the west baptistry,” said Kirby. Endowment patrons will go up a level to their recommend desk.

They also plan two separate pavilions farther from the entrance for wedding parties to celebrate as newly married couples exit the temple.

The endowment sessions will be in video form in 80 languages for this extremely popular temple.

“Until this time, patrons of the temple had to speak English to come and participate. Now the temple will be available to people who speak many different languages. That’s a big improvement in accessibility to members of the church,” said Kirby.

Artifacts and Visitors Center items move to Conference Center

The Conference Center has now become the main visitors center for the Salt Lake Temple.

Many of the items removed from the temple and the north and south visitors centers are on display across the street in the Conference Center.

There’s an altar, a table,  a doorknob with the beehive symbol, a cane and other historic features with written explanations and context. People can also watch a film about the temple renovation and its purpose.

The large cutaway model of the temple and a Christus statue are also in the Conference Center, as well as a lot of artwork on the balcony level.

The cutaway model is, we know, a guest favorite. It was previously in the South visitor center and then brought over here,” said Ben Metcalf, the manager of temple visitor centers for the Church. “What I love about it in this location is you can look at the temple, really get a great view of it and then turn around and see what happens inside.”

A bird’s eye view

Metcalf said his favorite spot in the Conference Center is probably the roof where he can watch the work going on across the street.

“Seeing them dig has been really, really  fun to watch. And it just kind of gets louder, as they dig deeper, but it doesn’t detract from the guest experience,” he said.

The location also allows him to watch for changes in the steel structures and plates and pipes as they are inserted.

Metcalf urged people to come experience more of Temple Square, including the Church History Museum with its children’s experience, and the other historic buildings.  Those who live outside of the area can take a virtual tour.

He said the plans right now include making the area to the south into the new main visitors center. And they will turn the area of the old North Visitors Center into gardens and contemplative space with a focus on Christ and the temple.  Landscaping around the plaza and grounds will also have that vision in mind.

Open house will allow visitors to see Salt Lake Temple renovation

Metcalf said many talks are under way right now for the open house when the Salt Lake Temple renovation is finished.

“It will be something that will bring in so many people from around the world. It will be a great opportunity for us to welcome and and help people learn a little bit more about our faith and why we believe what we believe,” he said.

Kirby said it will be a historic occasion. People will be able to bring their friends and neighbors to see inside. The last time church leaders opened the Salt Lake Temple to the public happened in the 1890s before its dedication.

“I’m excited for people to have that experience to to see the beauty of the Salt Lake Temple that represents a sacrifice of our pioneer forefathers and mothers and what they put into building a House of the Lord,” said Kirby. “But also then to see how it’s important to us today and to our future generations into the future.”

 

A foundation in faith

Kirby said some of the workers on the project have pioneer heritage and ancestry. Others are not members of the Church. But they all feel the importance of the work and the special things that are happening on the site. 

Kirby said his team prays for inspiration as they work on the project; they believe God guides their every move.

Metcalf sees the amount of work and attention to detail in the Salt Lake Temple renovation as a symbol or a metaphor for his own personal connection with God and Jesus Christ.

“The way we renovate our homes, and our lives, strengthening our foundations of faith through small and simple things of prayer and steady and service.  I hope guests walk away inspired in that sense that whether you’re of our faith or not, you can walk away from viewing this and talking with us saying, I want to be better. I want to have a stronger faith and stronger foundation in my life,” he said.

Bonneville International Corporation, the company that owns KSL NewsRadio, is a subsidiary of Deseret Management Corporation, which is owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 

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Renovating a pioneer temple: Inside the process of updating the Salt Lake Temple