Temple Square renovations in full swing as Conference approaches

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Leer en español: Continúan renovaciones en la Manzana del Templo mientras se acerca la Conferencia General

The Salt Lake Temple construction is fully underway in Temple Square as the April 2021 General Conference approaches. The Church has received mixed feedback from members about renovation plans. (Addie Blacker)

Construction has taken over Temple Square as eyes turn to Salt Lake City for the 191st Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Church President Russell M. Nelson announced renovations to the Salt Lake Temple in April 2019, resulting in the temple’s closure from December 2019 through 2024.

In his announcement of the renovation project, President Nelson said one of the main goals was to address safety concerns and replace obsolete systems within the building. He said the project was also intended to further enhance, refresh and beautify the temple.

“Accessibility will be enhanced so that members with limited mobility can be better accommodated,” Nelson said.

Exterior updates

A crane towers over the Salt Lake Temple on March 30. Construction on Temple Square is fully underway as the April 2021 General Conference approaches. (Addie Blacker)

In March 2020, one major aspect added to the renovations was the trumpet that fell from the statue of Moroni after a 5.7 magnitude earthquake hit the west side of the Salt Lake Valley.

According to a Church news release, scaffolding bridges now hang and surround the temple, while the area around the fountain at the Church Office Building Plaza has been completely stripped, preparing for new landscaping layouts.

Hayden McDow, a BYU mechanical engineering student, said while this temple renovation project requires lengthy excavation, construction methods and significant cost for labor, the engineering methodology being used allows for preservation of culturally significant and original designs while upgrading the temple with seismic and disaster-responsive materials.

“The final project will have an isolated base that allows for rolling during earthquakes and added structural responsiveness to other stresses and strains that are incurred on buildings of this size,” McDow said. “Altogether this project will add safety, durability, modern functionality, and unique preservation of history that otherwise would isolate the temple from a more modern and developed Salt Lake City.”

The project to create a tunnel underneath North Temple is about halfway done, with the roof in process of being removed and replaced with a temporary cover.

BYU exercise science alumna and Salt Lake City resident Hannah Coombs said she doesn’t view the construction as an inconvenience, but rather a much needed change for the temple.

“Overall, it might not look the prettiest right now, but if the seismic stabilizers help save the structure down the road it is definitely worth it,” Coombs said.

Interior changes

View of temple construction from South Temple on March 30. Construction is fully underway on Temple Square as the April 2021 General Conference approaches. (Addie Blacker)

The interior of the Salt Lake City Temple is also undergoing major changes.

The March 24 First Presidency update on the renovations said the temple will be equipped with two more instruction rooms, additional sealing ordinance rooms and a second baptistry.

The First Presidency said these changes would be made to “ensure a familiar, uplifting experience for members who attend that temple.”

The temple will also transition from live performances by actors to single-room presentations with film, allowing more sessions each day to accommodate the large number of members attending the temple.

However, many of these interior changes meant some of the original murals in the temple had to be removed or repainted. “They were originally painted directly on lath and plaster walls, which had been repaired and repainted many times because of water damage and other deterioration,” the update says. “The murals were carefully photographed and documented before removal, and some of the original portions are being preserved in the Church’s archives.”

Public reactions

There have been mixed responses from the public, who say these changes are either momentous or have a negative effect on the history and design of the temple.

Kristine Haglund, former editor of “Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought,” said switching from actors who are led by the Spirit to say lines a certain way to the films is a huge, unnecessary loss.

“The work of mental and spiritual imagination that has to occur in a live session is very different from the effect of the mass-produced and passively-received photographic version,” she told the Salt Lake Tribune.

Other people view the changes as something that won’t affect the overall experience of attending sessions at the temple.

BYU student Kelsey Johansen said something she loves about temples is being able to go anywhere in the world and have the same ordinances performed in the same way.

“A main reason we go to the temple is to turn to God and consecrate ourselves to Him, so the medium or presentation of an ordinance isn’t that important at the end of the day,” Johansen said.

Gerrit Van Dyk, BYU philosophy and Church history librarian, said updates in the presentation of the endowment show the globalization of the Church and its commitment to allow for more languages and a higher overall volume of patrons.

“In spite of what may be lost by this new direction, as a historian, I am encouraged by the Church’s simultaneous dedication to the historical record — that is, their sincere desire to preserve these magnificent murals, in whatever way possible, for posterity and future research,” Van Dyk said.

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