Salt Lake Temple renovations update from project leaders – Church News

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Four and a half years of renovations — with several more still to go — for the Salt Lake Temple and the surrounding Temple Square in downtown Salt Lake City may seem like a long endeavor. But it’s a far cry from the four decades needed to originally build the iconic house of the Lord in the late 19th century.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is trying not only to restore and replicate the pioneer craftsmanship of the historic temple but also to preserve a sacred edifice emblematic of the sacrifices to build the temple as well as the commitment to the covenants and ordinances performed within by Latter-day Saints for more than 170 years.

“You talk about the Salt Lake Temple, how it took 40 years to construct,” said Brent Roberts, managing director of the Church’s Special Projects Department. “But 40 years was generations for them. They were evolving, going through issues, strengthening their testimonies, and the temple was there when they needed it.

“And I look at those pioneers, especially their sacrifice — literally everything they had, in many respects — because they knew that they needed to have the power that comes with a covenant that they would only get in the temples of the Most High.”

That feeling is unique not just to the Salt Lake Temple, said Roberts, whose department not only renovates and restores existing houses of the Lord but also builds new ones around the globe.

Multiiple levels of scaffolding for workers envelopes the Salt Lake Temple, as seen at Temple Square in Salt Lake City on Monday, June 3, 2024. | Marielle Scott, Deseret News

“We feel the same way about the other temples throughout the world. It is the power that you receive in making and keeping covenants that makes a difference in individuals’ lives,” he said. “And we’re just thrilled to be a part of that.”

Roberts and Andy Kirby, the department’s director of historic projects, recently joined the Church News podcast to give an update on the ongoing Salt Lake Temple and Temple Square renovations. And in addition to detailing processes and progress, the two also spoke of the missions and mandates of the project — to underscore the Savior’s mission and ministry, to honor and maintain the temple’s historic beauty and to be mindful of the role of the house of the Lord in making and keeping sacred covenants with God.

Roberts underscored the sacredness of the Salt Lake Temple and the commitment to see that it not only is taken care of during renovation efforts but also gets the respect it deserves, having been built by the hands of pioneers in the late 1800s.

“We feel kindred to them, though we use tools that make it a little easier to do what we do, and though we use concrete that’s a little harder than the concrete that they made,” he said, adding of the pioneer craftsmen, “We don’t claim to be them, but we claim to be the people that are associated with them. And I’m sure they’re cheering for us. And we’re just thrilled at that blessing and opportunity.”

The east towers of the Salt Lake Temple, as seen during ongoing construction on Temple Square in Salt Lake City on Monday, June 3, 2024. | Marielle Scott, Deseret News

Pioneer-era temples

Original construction of a temple in the heart of Salt Lake City began in 1853, with the Salt Lake Temple finally finished and dedicated 40 years later, in 1893.

In the April 2019 general conference, President Russell M. Nelson announced plans to renovate and preserve the Church’s four pioneer-era temples — in Salt Lake City, St. George, Logan and Manti.

The renovated St. George Utah Temple was rededicated Dec. 10, 2023, by President Jeffrey R. Holland, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles; the recently completed Manti Utah Temple was rededicated on April 21, 2024, by President Nelson. Renovation details of the Logan Utah Temple have yet to be announced.

Ongoing construction is seen from the completed northwest corner of Temple Square in Salt Lake City on Monday, June 3, 2024. | Marielle Scott, Deseret News

Renovation of the Salt Lake Temple and Temple Square is currently scheduled for a 2026 completion.

The renovation project is more than just the temple itself and Temple Square proper. And in some cases, project work is completed in a number of areas — including the Church Office Building Plaza, Main Street Plaza and northwest portion of Temple Square. Ongoing work elsewhere continues with the Assembly Hall, the Joseph Smith Memorial Building, the Beehive House and the Lion House.

“So, we’re still very busy for the next 2½ years,” Roberts said, “but as we move forward, we feel very confident that we’re fulfilling the mission that was given us.”

To emphasize and highlight Christ’s life, ministry and mission

Roberts and Kirby both pointed to the project’s mission for the Salt Lake Temple and Temple Square project — as given by President Nelson, who said the renovations “will emphasize and highlight the life, ministry and mission of Jesus Christ in His desire to bless every nation, kindred, tongue and people.”

As part of that emphasis, statues will be placed across the grounds in the future that focus on the Savior and His ministry, Kirby said.

As one example, he added, three statues will be placed later this year in the northwest quadrant of Temple Square proper, where reflective gardens have been recreated.

A view of the ongoing Temple Square renovation project, with the north pavilions in the foreground and the Salt Lake Temple enveloped in scaffolding in the back right, as seen Monday, June 3, 2024, in Salt Lake City. | Marielle Scott, Deseret News

“One of our goals in these landscape areas is to provide a quiet, contemplative space where people can be near the temple and can pray and feel the Spirit and focus on the temple and their discipleship with Jesus Christ.”

President Nelson also mandated that every effort should be made to honor and maintain the temple’s historic beauty, Roberts said. “We’ve done that the best we can,” he said, explaining that what is being replaced or being added, such as the millwork, “will feel like the Salt Lake Temple. It’s identical, it’s repeatable.”

Kirby sees the purpose of the Salt Lake Temple renovation itself as threefold: to enhance the patron experience; make needed mechanical, electrical and plumbing upgrades; and most importantly, undergo a seismic upgrade so that the temple would stand through the Millennium, as outlined by President Nelson.

“That’s really what the temple is about — it’s really providing a great opportunity for members of the Church to come to the temple and to perform ordinances and to receive blessings from our Father in Heaven,” Kirby said.

Ongoing construction is seen on the north pavilions at Temple Square in Salt Lake City on Monday, June 3, 2024. The north pavilions will be used as nonpatron waiting areas. | Marielle Scott, Deseret News

The temple’s renovation includes expansion, with a 300,000-square-foot, multilevel “north addition” being key as the temple will go from having one baptistry to two and nine sealing rooms to 21. Also, endowment rooms will not only see an increase in capacity but be outfitted for video presentation for instruction for the first time ever. The live-presentation instruction has been done previously in English.

The audiovisual portion of the temple instruction will be available in many languages, Roberts said. “People for the first time throughout the world can come to the Salt Lake Temple, attend the Salt Lake Temple and be able to hear it in their own language.”

The Salt Lake Temple closed December 2019, with the extensive renovations beginning in earnest the following month. In the four years since, work has ranged from digging extensive excavations to unearthing historic foundations to meticulous removal and replacement of exterior stones on the temple’s six spires as well as the return of a refurbished Angel Moroni statue.

The Church Office Building Plaza, as seen Monday, June 3, 2024, in Salt Lake City. | Marielle Scott, Deseret News

‘Exciting time’ for seismic work

Kirby listed areas where temple renovation work continues, calling it “an exciting time for the seismic work.”

Crews strengthened the temple’s foundation, with new footings placed around the historic foundation, followed by the base isolators, the large mechanical devices that help the temple move less than the adjacent soil during an earthquake.

Workers are finishing the top transfer girders — beams that support the load of the temple on top of the base isolators. The transfer of the load of the temple to the new system is planned for this summer.

On the heels of strengthening of the foundation of the historic temple, a new, supportive foundation is being completed.

“It’s exciting to see the progress going, and we’re in many stages of construction throughout different areas of the temple,” Kirby said, adding that while concrete work continues in some areas, millwork and decorative painting are being done in others.

The goal, he said, is “trying to keep everybody busy in many areas of construction at the same time.”

The south pavilions — planned for use as a visitors’ center — are under construction, with the Salt Lake Temple as a backdrop, as photographed at Temple Square in Salt Lake City on Monday, June 3, 2024. | Marielle Scott, Deseret News

The giant transfer girders — about 15 feet tall and 15 feet thick, full of posttensioning reinforcements — have been cast around both the temple’s east and west towers, with posttensioning cables inserted into the beams. This month, transfer girders are being cast around the north and south walls to complete the upper foundation of the temple.

Posttensioning is to apply tension to reinforcing steel after concrete has set.

“We will insert over 260 miles of posttensioning cables into this transfer girder,” Kirby said. “It’s like a suspension bridge built inside a reinforced concrete beam.”

The transfer girder serves as the upper foundation, transferring the load of the temple from the soil it sits on and onto the new footings and base isolators.

“Imagine a bridge built to transfer the load to the new footings inside and outside the original foundation of the temple,” Kirby said.

The Salt Lake Temple, as seen from the Church Office Building Plaza on Monday, June 3, 2024, in Salt Lake CIty. | Marielle Scott, Deseret News

From bottom to top

The base isolator system and seismic strengthening aren’t just low-to-the-ground efforts that deal with foundations and lower levels. No, the system has gone to great heights to help strengthen and stabilize the Salt Lake Temple.

Workers removed about 6,000 stones from the temple’s top spires, building new steel trusses inside each spire. Spires were rebuilt with the stones replaced in their original location — but onto the steel-truss system. The temple’s Angel Moroni statue was removed, refurbished and strengthened and replaced on the center-east spire and connected to the same support system as well.

The spires of the Salt Lake Temple rise above the scaffolding on Monday, June 3, 2024, in Salt Lake City. | Marielle Scott, Deseret News

“Later, we will connect the new steel systems in the roof of the temple and in the spires down to this new top foundation by posttensioning through holes that we’ve drilled through the walls and the towers of the temple,” Kirby said. That will tighten or consolidate and unify the historic stone structure on top with its new, strengthened foundation, he added.

‘Feel like vintage Salt Lake Temple’

There will be additional and different hallways and walkways through the historic temple and its north addition and new entry, he added. “The finishes will feel like vintage Salt Lake Temple.”

Roberts saluted Kirby’s oversight with two pioneer temple restorations — the St. George Utah Temple and the Manti Utah Temple — that have already been finished, with both having been rededicated during the past six months.

Individuals who have had the opportunity to be inside either the St. George or Manti temples — during the open houses or during regular operations after their respective rededications — have witnessed the kind of quality work that is being done in the Salt Lake Temple. Roberts called the renovations of the two historic houses of the Lord in St. George and Manti “a prelude to what the Salt Lake Temple will look like, especially in St. George, with some of the finishes there and the antique look.”

Ongoing construction is seen on the north pavilions at Temple Square in Salt Lake City on Monday, June 3, 2024. The north pavilions will be used as nonpatron waiting areas. | Marielle Scott, Deseret News

Additional tidbits

A few other nuggets of information shared by Brent Roberts and Andy Kirby of the Church’s Special Projects Department when talking about the Salt Lake Temple and Temple Square renovation projects on the Church News podcast recently:

  • The Salt Lake Temple renovation project is just one of more than 160 active temple projects for the Church, ranging from design to new construction and to remodels and renovations.
  • Some crews at times have worked 12-hour shifts, six days a week.
  • The north addition is a multi-level structure built on the Salt Lake Temple’s north side. Extending three stories deep underground, the 300,000-square-foot addition not only provides additional support to the temple but also houses many of the temple’s ancillary services.
  • Already visible from North Temple Street, two entry pavilions are being built on Temple Square’s north side that will serve as nonpatron waiting areas. Also arising on the south side of Temple Square and visible from South Temple Street are the south pavilions that will serve as the new visitors’ center.
  • Over a recent period of two and a half months, almost 7,000 cubic yards of concrete were poured at the site in downtown Salt Lake City. To facilitate such a pour, North Temple and South Temple streets were closed to overnight traffic starting at 10 p.m., allowing more than 400 trucks to rotate in on separate pours.
  • The rebar — reinforcement bar — used for the Salt Lake Temple renovation project is No. 18, with a diameter of 2 ¼ inches. By comparison, most regular construction uses Nos. 3, 4 or 5 rebar, with No. 4 being a half-inch in diameter.
Ongoing construction is seen at Temple Square in Salt Lake City, on Monday, June 3, 2024. | Marielle Scott, Deseret News
Multiiple levels of scaffolding for workers envelopes the Salt Lake Temple, as seen at Temple Square in Salt Lake City on Monday, June 3, 2024. | Marielle Scott, Deseret News
Workers walk along scaffolding surrounding the Salt Lake Temple as ongoing construction is seen at Temple Square in Salt Lake City on Monday, June 3, 2024. | Marielle Scott, Deseret News
A worker looks out from the scaffolding surrounding the Salt Lake Temple in Salt Lake City, on Monday, June 3, 2024. | Marielle Scott, Deseret News