SALT LAKE CITY — Renovation plans for the Salt Lake Temple have been in the works for almost a decade, according to Church History Department curator Emily Utt.
In just a few weeks, those plans will finally be set in motion when the temple closes for the next four years starting Dec. 29.
A local, cultural and religious icon, the temple is not just a symbol of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it's Utah’s most frequented tourist attraction, drawing 3-5 million visitors each year — more than conferences, skiing and the national parks.
“This is probably the most significant project I’ve ever been involved in,” said Brent Roberts, managing director of the church’s Special Projects Department, as his voice caught with emotion. “This is the most significant project I can see, as a member of the church, that could ever be done.”
But what exactly will happen during those four years, and what will the temple look like when it’s over?
Here are some answers to questions you may have about the major project:
What will change?
Both the exterior and interior of the temple will undergo extensive renovation and reconstruction, so a lot will change. Here’s a quick summary of some of the major changes first announced by the church in April:
- The temple’s facilities will be upgraded and modernized, including seismic renovations that will help the 126-year-old building withstand a major earthquake.
- Large portions of the wall surrounding Temple Square will be demolished, and gates will be erected that will give the area a more appealing and inviting view to those on the outside.
- The annex on the north side of the temple will be demolished and rebuilt with an “architecturally sympathetic” look that matches the temple. This is where patrons will enter the temple.
- The South Visitors’ Center will be demolished and replaced with two new guest pavilions.
- A new guest access tunnel under North Temple Street will let visitors cross from the Conference Center to Temple Square.
- The Church Office Building plaza will be “repaired and refreshed.”
- The interior of the temple will be renovated to look more like it did when it was originally built by Utah’s pioneers who first settled the territory. The temple took 40 years for the pioneers to complete.
- The temple ceremonies will be available in 86 languages instead of just English.
Will Temple Square close?
Yes and no. Construction will obviously cause parts of the area to close, but others will remain open.
The south entrance will remain open, but the north entrance will close. The South Visitors' Center will be demolished, and the North Visitors' Center will be used to support events at the Assembly Hall. The Assembly Hall will remain open, and its programs will continue on schedule.
The south side of North Temple’s sidewalk will also close from West Temple to the Main Street plaza.
What does the construction schedule look like?
The temple will officially close Dec. 29, and crews will secure the area with a fence soon after that. The temple will then be “decommissioned,” meaning all moveable items will be moved out: some to other temples, others in storage, said Andy Kirby, director of historic temple renovations in the church’s Special Projects Department.
In the middle of January, the South Visitors' Center and part of the south side of Temple Square will be demolished. Statues, trees and fountains on the south side will be removed.
When spring rolls around, the demolition of the northern annex will begin. Eventually, there will be a 40-foot deep excavation north of the temple, Kirby said.
Crews will also take about two-and-a-half years to dig down to the foundation of the temple and separate it from the earth in what is called “base isolation” — one of the most popular methods to protect buildings from earthquakes.
“It will be an engineering and construction feat of world-class quality,” Kirby said.
Renovation of the Church Office Building plaza will begin in late 2020. During the first few years, crews will also work on the inside of the temple.
Where will visitors go when the visitor centers close down?
The Conference Center will be the “primary guest venue” where missionaries and others will give guided and unguided tours in 40 languages from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., said Tanner Kay, product manager of the Temple Square Guest Experience.
The new experience will focus on the temple’s history, as well as the ongoing construction. The tour will include a statue of Jesus Christ, a cutaway model of the temple, an orientation film about the temple’s history, and exhibitions of historic temple artifacts including stones, equipment and art, Kay said. Visitors will also be able to view the construction from the Conference Center balconies and roof.
“(Visitors will) see the foundation of the temple. No one has seen that. For a construction guy, that’s pretty exciting,” Roberts said.
In the spring, a new attraction will show visitors what it’s like to attend general conference in the center’s auditorium. Kay expects the number of visitors to increase during construction’s peak.
What about the Christmas lights?
The Christmas lights will be “reduced” but will still go up each year. Anything within the “construction perimeter” won’t be decorated, which will mainly include the east side, Kay said.
As construction continues, however, visitors will see decorations they’ve never seen before as new landscaping pops up, he added.
What will the temple look like on the inside after renovation?
The church released renderings Wednesday that depict the interior of the Salt Lake Temple as it will appear following its four-year renovation.
The renderings highlight a return to the temple's original pioneer-era decor and color scheme, Utt explained. The inside of the temple has sported a white color scheme since its last renovation decades ago, but the upcoming renovation will bring back original, darker colors like the green depicted in the rendering of the lower grand hall.
The wood inside the temple was painted light colors during the temple’s 60s-era renovation but will also be restored to its original look with mahogany, cherry and oak coloring.
“Our goal is to preserve this building and honor those who came before,” Utt said.
The murals in the temple will be cleaned and preserved, and there will be greater accessibility, including additional ramps and elevators.
Crews will also add audio and visual support to the temple rooms so that those who speak languages other than English will be able to watch the ceremonies on video. The temple will still conduct “live” sessions, as well.
How large of an earthquake will the temple be able to withstand?
Thanks to the new “base isolation system” crews will install, the temple will be able to withstand a 7- or 7.5-scale earthquake with little to no operational damage, Roberts said.
How will the construction impact the surrounding areas?
Planning crews have been working extremely closely with the city to ensure construction is as harmless as possible, Roberts explained.
Crews will work to minimize dust and noise pollution but will occasionally need to work outside of the hours specified in the city’s noise ordinances, he added.
If crews need to pour concrete for several hours, they’ll also need to shut down North and South Temple — something temple planners are hoping to do only at night, Roberts said.
How many people are involved in the construction?
At the height of construction, 500 people will be working on the project daily, Kirby said. The entire project will require thousands of workers.
The church has worked to source locally, however, and will reuse as much of the demolished material as possible.
What will happen to the temple workers?
Those working in the temple will be relocated to either the Jordan River or Bountiful temples, but only on an as-needed basis, said Rich Sutton, director of operations in the church’s Temple Department.
Sutton believes most temple patrons will attend the Jordan River or Bountiful temples, but workers will only be relocated when those temples ask for more aid, he said.
Will there be an open house when the temple is completed?
The iconic temple will reopen in 2024 for a public open house before church leaders rededicate the building during a ceremony that sets aside the temple for the work of God. The open house will mark the first time the Salt Lake Temple will be available to the public since construction was completed in 1893.
While the schedule and length of the open house are still to be determined, church representatives believe it will be on an enormous scale as yet unseen.
How do I find more information about the project?
The church launched a new website at templesquare.org that will provide details of the renovation during construction.