SALT LAKE CITY — No one quite knows who the last person out the doors of the Salt Lake Temple will be on Dec. 28, but on Monday, Dec. 30 the process of decommissioning the temple and preparing for a massive four-year renovation will begin.
Prior to that date, expect Temple Square to be a beehive of activity with the annual Christmas lights and concerts, overflow temple sessions and the steady stream of weddings.
The discussion and preparations for the four-year renovation of the temple has been in the works for as much as a decade. The current First Presidency gave the go-ahead that it’s time.
Church officials shared added details Wednesday of what will be accomplished with the temple’s renovation, several details about it will be different after the renovation is complete, as well as what people can expect during the four-year renovation. The church also released renderings showing what several rooms inside the temple will look like after renovations are completed.
“The last major renovation was in the 1960s,” said Andy Kirby, director of historic temple renovation.
That means items like the mechanical systems, water and fire suppressant systems and other infrastructure are about 60 years old.
“It’s time to replace them,” Kirby said.
According to Kirby the church has hired several off-duty firefighters throughout the Salt Lake Valley to be on-site fire watchers. No hot work like welding will be allowed in certain areas. The church does not want to experience what the Catholic Church in Paris went through with the Cathedral of Notre Dame.
“The Salt Lake Temple is an icon of strength to members all over the world. We have studied the potential of strengthening it more,” Kirby said.
What will the renovation bring?
Kirby oversees several of the legacy temples’ renovations currently in process including the Mesa Arizona Temple and the St. George and Salt Lake temples. He also works on the Provo City Center Temple. The Manti Utah Temple is being previewed and the Logan Utah Temple is waiting for its future renovation date.
Kirby shared more details Wednesday of what will be new in the Salt Lake Temple after the renovation is complete.
“Murals will be preserved and conserved,” Kirby said. “We’ve selected colors to match the pre-1960s.”
The wood, originally pine and fir, will be regrained and brought back to the darker wood looks. The Garden Room will feature drapes and furniture and vibrant green colors to bring back the pre-1960s feel.
The Daughters of Utah Pioneers also had a sample of the carpet that historically lined the floors of the temple, which, Kirby said, the church used as a pattern for new carpet that will be installed in the temple’s Great Hall.
While there are very few floor plan adjustments, Kirby did say that the added annex will be redone and two new sealing rooms will be added with others enlarged.
Even the Moroni on the top of the temple will be taken down and given a cleaning and update and then be placed back up again.
In the meantime, the church is opening its arms and inviting guests to experience the Christmas season with its annual Christmas Lights on Temple Square display.
After the Christmas lights are dimmed at the end of the month, the following 30 days will see quite a bit of demolition, according to Brent Roberts, Special Projects managing director.
The first thing to come down in January will be the South Visitor’s Center and then the excavation begins. The public will be able to watch the construction up close.
“We invite them to look through massive viewing areas,” Roberts said. “We are doing everything we can the first year with a lot of excavation.”
Roberts said he is privileged to be a part of such a delicate and wonderful process.
“We will take the temple and keep the old feel but modernize, make it more ADA friendly, and new lifts,” Roberts said.
Temple work during renovations
Those who have volunteered as temple workers will be released, but most likely will be called to help at other local temples that will see an increase in patrons.
Rich Sutton area director in the Temple Department said they have tried to do a lot of planning.
“I don’t know what the next three weeks will bring but temple workers will have to have patience as they try to accommodate everyone,” Sutton said.
There will still be a temple president, but the offices will be moved to another temple. Before the open house in four years, a new president will be called.
Sutton also said the decommissioning is taking the sacred things from the temple and moving the status of the temple from sacred to just a building.
Following that, Sutton and crew will begin preparing for operations in the new temple.
“A lot can happen in four years,” Sutton said.
The weekly Thursday meeting held by the First Presidency has been moved to a room in the Joseph Smith Building that has been dedicated for their use.
But officials are encouraging people to visit the temple before the renovation begins.
“I don’t want anyone to feel scared and not come because of crowds,” Sutton said. “Please come, there are busy sessions but there are still opportunities.”
Some of those opportunities even include temple sealing ceremonies, which if done on an off day and with small groups a couple could be accommodated.
Visiting during renovation
One of the biggest parts of the renovation is how to accommodate the 5 million guests that visit Temple Square every year.
“We are providing a wonderful experience at the Conference Center,” said Tanner Kay, Temple Square guest experience manager.
The conference center will feature a large 3-D cutaway of the temple, a Christus statue, pieces of the temple rock for guest to touch and furniture from the temple will be on display.
There will be places guests may go either by self-guided tour or with tour guides to the top of the building where there is a panoramic view of the construction, according to Kay.
“We have been working on this for over a year,” Kay said. “The tours will open Jan. 1.”
Kay has 1,200 missionaries and volunteers to help him through the next four years as they re-adjust to the new location.
Kay did say that the Tabernacle and Assembly Hall will still be open as will the Church History Museum, Church History Library, Joseph Smith Building, the Lion House and all church tourist destinations in the area.
For more information or to keep up with the renovation visit the new website at http://templesquare.org.