Episode 70: The expansiveness of the Salt Lake Temple renovation project, with Brent Roberts and Andy Kirby

From its granite foundation to its heavenly spires, the Salt Lake Temple is a landmark and symbol for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Originally dedicated in 1893, the Salt Lake Temple closed for extensive renovations just over two years ago.

Brent Roberts, managing director of the Church’s Special Projects Department, and Andy Kirby, director of historic temple renovations, join this episode of the Church News podcast to talk about this expansive project.

They detail the work that has been done, the unexpected things they discovered along the way and what still has to be accomplished as work continues on the historic temple, Temple Square and the Church plaza. 

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Andy Kirby: Our seismic upgrade to the temple is a preservation of the [Salt Lake] temple as a whole. Not just the historical building, but the symbol itself as a building that will stand as a reminder of the dedication of the Saints in the past, but also as a symbol for all of us to look forward to the coming of Christ, and to prepare ourselves to enter the temple, and also the importance of the work. So, it adds a little bit of extra effort to do our best, and we see it from those who are jackhammering, to those who do finish work. It's a great honor for each of us as we get to participate in this work.

Sarah Jane Weaver: I'm Sarah Jane Weaver, editor of the Church News — welcome to the Church News podcast. We are taking you on a journey of connection as we discuss news and events of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

From its granite foundations to its heavenly spires, the historic Salt Lake Temple is a landmark and symbol for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Long before its dedication in 1893, Latter-day Saints looked to the sacred structure as a mountain of the Lord. Beginning in 2020, the Salt Lake Temple has been closed for extensive renovations. Brent Roberts, managing director of the Church’s Special Projects department, and Andy Kirby, director of historic temple renovations, join this episode of the Church News podcast to talk about this expansive renovation. Welcome to the Church News podcast.

Andy Kirby: Thank you. 

Brent Roberts: Great, great to be with you.

Sarah Jane Weaver: Let's just start today — Brent, can you give us a brief overview of the objectives of this project and what we're trying to accomplish?

Brent Roberts: Certainly. I think President Russell M. Nelson said it best when we had the announcement and he talked about that this project will enhance, refresh and beautify the temple, its surrounding grounds, replace obsolete systems and also handle safety and seismic concerns, along with accessibility. This project truly is to make the patron’s experience more meaningful. From a standpoint of a construction worker, and from an individual who’s responsible for this, it truly is an opportunity for us to replace outdated mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems, as well as protect it into the millennium, as he has said before. President Nelson has always made it clear that this is a project for the millennium and for something that we can move forward with in the future.

President Russell M. Nelson, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and his wife Sister Wendy Nelson tour the renovation work at the Salt Lake Temple in Salt Lake City on Saturday, May 22, 2021. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Sarah Jane Weaver: We just hit the two-year anniversary of these renovation efforts. Andy, why don't you tell us what we've accomplished so far? 

Andy Kirby: Sure. These two years have been full of activities for us. In construction, we started by decommissioning the temple. That means we bring out the furniture and the lights, the carpet, and things like that, and that was a significant activity in itself. There was a lot of material in the temple. Then we begin to remove hazardous materials from construction of the north edition, for example, that was built in the 1960s, and to begin demolition of portions of the project that we're going to rebuild. And that was a significant activity, too. Asbestos is something that was a miracle material back in the past; but nowadays, we get frustrated when we find it because it's just sometimes difficult to remove, and we have to follow federal guidelines to remove it and keep people safe. So we've done that and prepared the temple for the next steps. 

We've also begun the excavation. We completed the excavation, actually, on the north side of the temple to build a new north addition to support the functions of the temple, and this was a significant effort. It's 65 feet deep. We had to remove the original structure that was constructed in the 1960s and then go another 30 feet deeper than that. So, we were shoring into soils that hadn't ever been dug into around here at the temple site. We've completed that. 

We've now started constructing the footing and foundation of the new temple addition north of the temple. We've also been working on our seismic strengthening portion of our projects. We are working to strengthen the historic foundation of the temple, so we've excavated around the foundations, and we can see what those original pioneers constructed back in the 1850s, and it's special to see that work because you think of the sacrifice that they made, and how they were living and struggling at the same time, building the temple of the Lord, and we've been strengthening that and moving forward in our efforts to strengthen the foundation of the temple.

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, before we jump into what still needs to be done, what have you learned about the pioneers? We see all of this heavy equipment on the site, and then think about them building the temple without the aid of new technology or heavy kind of equipment.

Andy Kirby: I have to think of what President Wilford Woodruff's view would be of our equipment and materials and knowledge, compared to what he had when he was project-managing construction on the temple. I imagine that he would see our diesel machinery and our cranes and our power equipments and be amazed by what we can do. Now, we have tower cranes in our construction, where they were using block-and-tackle rigging with horses to lift stones up onto the temple, and now we do it with giant electric-powered tower cranes. So I look back at what they did with what they had, and I marvel at their skill and their dedication and their commitment to building a house of the Lord.

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and when I look at the temple from the north end — when you stand and look at the huge hole, you'll also see a tunnel being constructed to the conference center, and then a huge amount of cement that seems to be holding up what's going to be that that new section north of the temple. Can you tell us about what's going on there?

Andy Kirby: Yes. We will be building three stories of temple — the addition north of the temple in that large excavation that he talked about. So we have to shore, which means put in giant soldier piles and lagging as we excavate it down to hold the soil back so that it doesn’t fall into the hole. We also built a giant shoring system — a retaining wall, if you will — to hold the temple so that it doesn’t fall into the hole. That took us about a year of construction that we completed last year. It was a significant activity. We have, we rely on shoring engineers and contractors to do their best work, and now we’re constructing the footing and foundation of that structure. It’s a significant amount of steel and concrete. For example, the footing of the new temple addition is 42 inches thick, and it’s full of steel reinforcing to support that concrete, and I’ve really never seen structural design and construction of this size and magnitude before it’s quite impressive.

Renovation on the Salt Lake Temple continues in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Sarah Jane Weaver: What still has to be accomplished at the site?

Andy Kirby: We've still got a lot to do. In lots of ways, we've spent the first two years preparing to do the new construction, and now are beginning the new construction. So, we've got to continue to construct the foundation, the walls, the columns, and the floors of the north addition — we'll work from the bottom up in that area. At the same time, we're working inside and around the base of the temple to strengthen it, so that in the future, when an earthquake happens, it will be strong and resist those forces and hold the temple together better. That seismic work is groundbreaking and world-class structural engineering, seismic engineering and construction. So we'll be doing that for several years to come also.

Sarah Jane Weaver: We've seen some illustrations of this, these efforts to protect the temple in case of an earthquake. Can you explain to us what's actually being done to reinforce and prepare the temple for that? 

Andy Kirby: Sure. The basic system is called base isolation. It's where we build a mechanical separation from the earth, so we build a way that the temple can move freely of the earth, so when an earthquake happens, the earth moves more than the temple. We're also going to tie the temple together. The historic temple is made of non-reinforced masonry, so it's stacked with lime mortar. We're going to tie the stones together with steel. We're doing that by adding steel roof trust membrane, or diaphragm system, to the roof. It holds the walls and the towers together. And we will also tension the temple, the top down to the bottom, so we’re kind of clamping it down so it'll act as one unit. When the earthquake happens in the future, the ground will move around the temple and the temple will hold firm.

Sarah Jane Weaver: Right? Well, anyone who's renovated their house knows that as you take things down, you find things that you didn't expect to see there. What surprises have you found as the project has unfolded?

Brent Roberts: It seems like every week that we have what we call unforeseen circumstances, which means we're working with a structure that obviously was built, you know, over 100 years ago, and we have limited drawings. For example, last week, we were looking at some mortar joints, and we referred back to Truman Angels’ initial drawings — and by the way, his architectural drawings are magnificent for the period of time that they're in — we referred back to that. Unfortunately, the builders who were building it didn't build it exactly the way he drew it. And because of that, we assumed that they built it close to that, and we found that they didn't, which causes us then, as a team — and we have a wonderful team of professionals and individuals — we get together, and we counsel together, and we see what that unforeseen circumstance is and we make options and solutions, and we take those solutions forward. And I'm informing the brethren — both the Presiding Bishopric and the First Presidency — and getting their blessing on moving forward in a different path. 

It happens much more on a remodel project than it does, of course, anywhere else or a renovation project, but we have found many of those things because we just don’t know. We don’t know what is behind the walls until we get into those walls. I think it’s just amazing to think about the construction of the Salt Lake Temple. Pioneers, of course, the architecture relied fully on gravity and the weight of the temple to weigh down all the pillars and posts and piles. What we’re trying to do, in essence, is take the temple itself, before we undercut it and put the base isolation system in, is to strengthen that together and tie it together similar to what a new construction is, so that if it does move in a seismic event, they will move together. Then we put in the base isolation below, which allows the earth to move but the building not to move. And so we often see many unforeseen circumstances and our tolerances are so thin and the way we have to do it. It feels like (at) times we’re redoing the same work, but we are making great progress.

The Salt Lake Temple, which is undergoing renovation, is pictured before the Saturday morning session of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ 191st Semiannual General Conference on Oct. 2, 2021. | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Andy Kirby: Another example of unforeseen conditions: I talked about hazardous material abatement, we found in the north edition asbestos everywhere when we didn't expect it. And so we would take down a wall and find asbestos behind that wall, and so we find things like that, as Brent mentioned, in renovations that are unforeseen. We try to do investigations beforehand, to make sure we understand as best we can, but there's always something that we're uncovering that we have to adapt to, and we have significant systems and experts to help us adapt. And I'm pleased with our ability to adapt.

Sarah Jane Weaver: When we think about things that are unforeseen — certainly no one expected this project to take place during a pandemic. On one side, it's sort of cleared out downtown, and maybe reduced traffic for the project. On the other, we're hearing about supply chains and other things. How has the pandemic impacted this project?

Brent Roberts: Just like other projects, we've had our issues with COVID-19. We've had our fair share of infections among our staff, and among, of course, the workers. It is very difficult for them, working in a small room close together, to social distance. They've done everything they could, and Jacobson has done a fabulous job, but we have been affected by that, to the point where a small percentage of the workforce are not able to come because of being out with COVID. 

We've also found the supply chain to be very difficult, although we have been very successful in mitigating those things — we pre-purchase much of the things that we needed, so we're not facing what other projects are, but the team has done a great job of mitigating those. But supply chain is an issue. Steel, which we use a lot in concrete and other things, the delay times are increased dramatically, and we have to schedule differently to handle all that. Manufacturing is the same way, but I think one of the most difficult things is the ability to communicate one-on-one. We've had to do much virtual communication. We're unable to be on site, so we have to see a lot of things in video, though we have spent a lot of time on site and did what we could, social distancing. The virtual aspect of that has made it even more difficult. Andy, did you have a comment?

Andy Kirby: Yeah, I'm thinking of unforeseen conditions in the world that have happened through the construction process. We had the pandemic which we're still dealing with, we had an earthquake during the construction that we had to adapt to. We also learned from that earthquake initially, and it helped us understand a little bit how the temple would move and validated some of our assumptions of how would perform in an earthquake. We had the riots in downtown Salt Lake, we had a windstorm, and we've been able to push through and continue working on the Salt Lake Temple with great effort and success, so I'm very pleased with the adaptability of our teams out there. 

But, as Brent mentioned, it is definitely changing the way we do business. It has affected market conditions around the world, it takes longer for supplies to arrive. In 2019, it would have taken three to six weeks to get certain steel items delivered. Now, it takes three to six months, and inflation is affecting those items also. So, we have to plan our procurement and store more than we originally planning on to hedge against those escalating costs. We also have labor shortages in the Utah market, which are affecting our ability to construct as fast as we want. It's a reality that all of the subcontractors and contractors are busy out there, and that's a good thing for everybody in the industry, but it also makes it so that when we need more people, it's hard to find them. So, we are dealing with issues like that as we progress, and we'll succeed well.

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and during general conference, members worldwide got to glimpse some of the work you’re doing when President Russell M. Nelson showed us the foundation of the temple. What are we doing to reinforce the temple foundation?

Brent Roberts: You know, if I can make a comment on that: As you know, President Russell M Nelson made those comments in general conference. I had the blessing of being there and speaking with him about that, and being able to feel of the Spirit while we were there. One of the important aspects that we worked on over the last two years was to, first and foremost, to strengthen the footings and foundation so this work can be done. It has been a very interesting process. As we look at the footings, and we fully uncovered them to see the difficulties and the erosion and those things that have happened, but our first thing, just as President Nelson said, our first thing was to strengthen those footings and foundation. We then installed buttress walls, walls, or huge retaining walls to protect the foundation around so that would protect us from any ongoing movement that was there. And then, of course, using the latest technology that we have now to move forward and put in the base isolation. I think from his message, I learned first and foremost, that we have to have a strong spiritual foundation, and we have to strengthen that continually. And it was a personal, wonderful moment for me, and for all of us, I believe.

President Russell M. Nelson, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, tours renovation work at the Salt Lake Temple in Salt Lake City on Saturday, May 22, 2021. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and Andy, I'd love to hear you give us your reaction as well to being with President Nelson as he observed and inspected the foundation. But before that, how much does the temple weigh? How much weight are we putting on the foundation?

Andy Kirby: The historic Salt Lake Temple, the historic portion of it weighs 187 million pounds, give or take a few. It's very heavy. It's a tall stone structure, so beautiful, but it's a significant mass that we're working with, and so it's heavy. It was a great opportunity to be there with President Nelson and to see the historic footing of the temple with him, and then to have him teach us about our spiritual foundation using the Salt Lake Temple foundation as an example. I think it takes strengthening of what we already have, and then adding to it what we can, and that's what we're doing on the Salt Lake Temple. What the pioneers built in the 1850s — it's beautiful. We see the stones that they brought from the mountains that they had to put on carts and bring the horses, and the mortar that they had to make themselves and it performed beautifully for over 100 years, and it's a great opportunity to add to what they did and to strengthen it for many, many years into the future. 

So, as Brent said, we're strengthening their foundation. We injected grout in between those stones to consolidate those stones. We also installed giant steel ties that (are) like big bolts that compress and tie the original footing and foundation together. And then, we've begun our work to add and increase the strength of the foundation, and that's the work we're doing now.

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and as you're increasing the strength of the foundation, is the weight of the temple also increasing? You know, we're seeing huge steel beams being added to the temple on the construction site, and other things that may protect the temple into the future, but it also may make it heavier and need for the foundation to even be stronger.

Andy Kirby: That's a good question. The structural engineers and seismic engineers take into account the previous design and the future design to calculate; and so, yes, it will probably be a little bit heavier in some areas, and lighter in other areas, but we're adding a lot of steel to it. So, generally heavier, but we calculate that in our design.

Sarah Jane Weaver: And I asked this question at the beginning, but I'd love to just re-emphasize it now. We've seen the foundation, Brent mentioned it, that these stones came from the hills. What have you learned about early Latter-day Saints who built this temple in this process of unearthing and seeing the work that they did?

Brent Roberts: From a personal standpoint, I've learned that they had an incredible amount of faith. Faith and determination to do something that has never been done before. Faith relying on the prophet who was being led by the Lord. I am just amazed, not only at their unique abilities, and their craftsmanship and their ability to do, what they were able to accomplish, but also where their hearts were. I think President Russell M. Nelson, in the 2018 conference, mentioned that construction of these temples may not change our lives, but time in the temple surely will, and he then went on to bless us with the Spirit and bless our families in harmony and love. You know, I think there's a few of us that, our lives have been changed by the construction of temples, but nowhere near what happens to us as we go into the temple. It's definitely changed my life, but I think the experiences inside the temple, truly, for me personally, are much more than what the construction has been. I think the Saints, the early Saints that worked on the temple, the early craftsmen felt the same way. Many of them probably didn't have an opportunity to attend the temple because it took so long, but their mission was the same, and I just fully appreciate the work that they've done. 

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, what efforts are we undertaking to preserve some of the history found in the temple?

Brent Roberts: We’re making every effort we can to improve the historicity of the temple, and the unique craftsmanship that’s visible, that is able to be seen. For example: There’s spiral staircases in Salt Lake Temple, and we have spiral staircases and other temples and those staircases are made out of wood and they’re amazing craftsmanship. But in this temple, they are fashioned out of stone, they are actually hand-chiseled, three dimensional, in a circular stair format going up and going down. It is incredible. Even to do today, with the tools that we had, we would take shortcuts to make the same but they didn’t, and I can imagine someone sitting there with a hammer and chisel just making sure that it was smooth so it can be plastered. It’s just incredible what they’ve been able to accomplish.

The previously built buttresses on a deep secant wall are gradually exposed to prepare for more excavation needed to construct three additional floors of the temple facilities during the renovation of the Salt Lake Temple in downtown Salt Lake City, June 2021. | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Andy Kirby: I think also we're protecting the temple as a whole. Our seismic upgrade to the temple is a preservation of the temple as a whole, not just the historical building, but the symbol itself. And so, our seismic work preserves the temple as a building that will stand as a reminder of the dedication of the Saints in the past, but also as a symbol for all of us to look forward to the coming of Christ and to prepare ourselves to enter the temple regularly.

Sarah Jane Weaver: And I think the question on everyone's mind is, “When is this project going to be done?” Everyone wants to be back in the temple, they miss it. They want to see the scaffolding down. Certainly, it's not going to take 40 years like it did to build it, but what kind of timeline are we on?

Brent Roberts: I think the First Presidency made an announcement in the last few months, that with the changes of the temple and other issues that we've had through COVID, etc, we plan however, to finish the temple, mid-year or in the year 2025. A little longer than first anticipated, but a little more difficult project than we firstly started, so I think it's summer to fall of 2025.

Sarah Jane Weaver: Right. Well, anyone who's ever renovated their kitchen knows that these projects take two or three times longer, so it sounds like we're ahead of what probably was reasonable. I have enjoyed seeing monthly updates on the progress published by the Church. As I was reviewing those to prepare for this podcast, I kept seeing the term “jack and bore” process. Tell us what that is and why it matters.

Andy Kirby: Yeah, the “jack and bore” process is a process of inserting giant steel pipes underneath the historic footing of the temple, and those pipes will be used as a beam to transfer the load of the temple to the future base isolation system. So these pipes are four foot diameter, one inch thick steel pipes, and they are 40 feet long underneath the towers, the east and the west towers, and will be 20 feet long underneath the walls that are on the north and south side of the temple. 

We initially planned on using a drilling machine called a “jack and a bore” process where you insert an auger inside the pipe as you jack or push it in, but we found large cobbles underneath the foundation of the temple that made it so that the alignments or the straightness of our insertion of those pipes was difficult. So, we're actually hand-digging the soil and then jacking the pipe in. So, we have someone climbing through that pipe to the end, and digging with a shovel and a small jackhammer and putting the soil and cobbles and rocks into a small ore car, and then sending it back out to the end of the pipe for somebody to gather. So we're hand-digging like a miner, and then pushing the pipe in. It's a significant process, we fill those pipes once they're inserted with a reinforced concrete system, so that it’ll be a solid beam. There is a total of 96 of those pipes that we will be inserting over that all through the summer and this year to build that beam system underneath the footing of the temple.

Sarah Jane Weaver: And just as early Latter-day Saints sacrificed so much, it feels like those who are working on the site now are also engaged in a labor of love.

Andy Kirby: We see that all the time. When we talk to individuals, there's an excitement in their talk, and you can see a gleam in their eye when they talk about the work they're doing and also the importance of the work. So, it adds a little bit of extra effort to do our best, and we see it from those who are jackhammering to those who do finish work, and they smile and they talk about their opportunity to work on the temple. They hope to share that, you know, with their family in the future that they worked on the Salt Lake Temple. It's a great honor for each of us as we get to participate in this work.

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and the temple is part of a bigger renovation project with the plazas and Temple Square and all of that property between the Church office building and the Church administration building and the Salt Lake tabernacle. Can you talk to us about what's happening with other parts of the project?

Andy Kirby: Sure. We have a construction work going on between State Street and West Temple Street right now. We also have lay down and construction support facilities on blocks outside of that area. So, we have a significant amount of work that we're doing. 

Let me start in the historic Temple Square area. We have demolished the South Visitor Center that was south of the Salt Lake Temple. We’ve also demolished and removed the North Visitor Center that was in the northwest corner of Temple Square. And in that area where the North Visitor Center was, we’re going to build a small building that will be a support to the function of the Tabernacle, but return that area mostly to landscapes, so there will be gardens and beautiful views of the temple in that area. We’re also modifying the historic Temple Square wall so that it will be open in additional areas. You’ll be able to see into Temple Square, give a little bit more of an inviting feel. 

Large pipes are inserted under the existing footings of the building — a process called jack and bore — and the dirt within the pipes is drilled out with a machine using the large green augers during the Temple Square renovation project in downtown Salt Lake City during December 2021. | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

On the Administration block here between the main street and State Street, we have removed the landscape from the plaza between the buildings here, and we're repairing the concrete deck that was built in the 1960s has been leaking and needs repair. And then we'll build a new landscape system here, so that when we're finished, the landscape and site improvements will be similar all the way from State Street to West Temple Street. And a lot of area closed access is a little bit limited. We try to make it easy for people to get around, but the reality is we have a lot of construction going on at one time.

Sarah Jane Weaver: You know, I think a lot of people know that City Creek runs through downtown Salt Lake City. You mentioned digging deeper than maybe has been dug before. Did you encounter any groundwater as this project unfolded?

Andy Kirby: Yes, we did. The aqueduct that contains and waters of City Creek flow through runs, it's a pipe that runs down North Temple Street. And as we excavated lower than we had originally planned, to 65 feet deep, we found a clay lens or a clay layer that added water on top of it, and that water was being recharged through the underground flows of City Creek. So there was a time when we were pumping water, and we figured a way to hold the water back and pump it so that we could waterproof and then continue our excavations. And yeah, it was difficult, but we figured it out. And so, yes, we found water, and sometimes when you're looking for water, it's good to find water, but other times you don't want to find water, and that was an unforeseen condition. We knew there was a chance, but we solved that problem and we moved past it. And the lower floors of the temple will be protected from that water in the future as we waterproof our way back up.

Sarah Jane Weaver: Fantastic. And I also understand that you've done a few things as part of this project to improve the patron experience.

Brent Roberts: We did put in a tunnel and we've mentioned that and you've seen videos with President Russell M. Nelson standing in that tunnel. We created a tunnel from the Conference Center parking to the temple itself. For years, it's been difficult to drop people off on North Temple, especially those that are ambulatory or aged, to go to the front of the temple. They now have an opportunity to park in the Conference Center, walk or be escorted through a tunnel into the entry of the temple. Just very convenient, and that is in the spirit of what the President Nelson and the First Presidency and the brethren want in making this patron experience just wonderful for everybody.

Andy Kirby: Yeah. We are improving accessibility for all patrons, both with language and mobility. So, where before there were stairs and ramps, now there's elevators and leveled floors and lifts, so all patrons who desire can have a better experience in the temple.

Sarah Jane Weaver: What do you want Church members worldwide to know about everything that's being accomplished there?

Brent Roberts: I would probably make the comment that Church members should truly understand — and they do, I am sure — that these efforts are led by inspired men, that we are led by a prophet of the Lord, and he has contemplated in council with his brethren and the other brethren what needs to be done for future generations in the Salt Lake area, as well as in the Salt Lake Temple, of course. It is a unique pleasure that we have to associate with him and share with him items and our progress as he moves forward and provides us with inspired direction. I want membership to know that we are truly committed to this work, and committed to do what the Lord wants us to do and following a prophet. I think we've also learned, personally, I have, that the gathering of Israel is real, and that we are truly in the midst of fulfillment of prophecy, and we're just honored to be part of it. But I think members of the Church can trust that this project is in great hands because it's led by a prophet.

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and we’ll include a picture of President Nelson on this scaffolding of the temple actually inspecting the roof at age 97, but he has been very hands-on in this process.

President Russell M. Nelson, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, tours the renovation work at the Salt Lake Temple in Salt Lake City on Saturday, May 22, 2021. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Brent Roberts: Very much so. I have the opportunity, in separate meetings, not always associated with Salt Lake, to meet with the First Presidency and the Presiding Bishopric a couple times a week or three or four times a month. In all of those meetings, for the most part, he asked for a report. He wants to know what's going on. He asks specific questions he wants to understand, and of course, he understands, and then he provides thoughts and feelings and direction as only a prophet could, but he is very engaged. 

I had the blessing of being with him on that tour where we were in the scaffolding up above the Tabernacle looking over and I'm not sure any prophet has ever done that before, or been that high before. And we examined the roof, for example. And his questions, specifically about the roof trusses, were amazing. Let me just share with you: The construction of the temple — you can see the technology that came to the pioneers growing through the temple. The footings of course were difficult and hand-dug, and basically, by the time we got to the roof system, they were still available. And so the trusses of the temple were put in originally in steel from the 1800s. We augmented that by adding additional steel and tying that together. But he was fascinated, and so are all of us, that those steel trusses and the way that they were put in were so professionally done in, we believe, you know, the late 1880s. So, just an incredible opportunity. And he was very interested in that, as well as interested in every aspect. And so we report to him on a weekly basis of what's going on and answer questions as they come up.

Sarah Jane Weaver: I know after the earthquake the time capsule in the angel Moroni was unearthed. Are there any other archeological finds or artifacts that have come from inside of the temple?

Andy Kirby: We have a historic structures report prepared by Church historians and other experts of all the information they could gather about what was in the temple, and there have been several locations we've looked for and found items that they were expecting. And sometimes, we find unexpected items, like tools in between walls or up behind rafters. Sometimes we find little notes — we have a piece of sandpaper that we found, we think was one of the finish carpenters working, and he wrote a note, we think, to the next crew that was coming on on the piece of sandpaper, and I don't know if they ever read that or not, but we found his note there. And so, sometimes we find interesting things like that about the people that were building this at the time. So, different types of items. Yes, we found them, and we have a great partnership with the Church history department, and they are archeologists there, and when we find things like that they're involved and help us document appropriately.

Sarah Jane Weaver: And I love that President Nelson, during the press conference when he announced this temple project, he promised all of us that we would love the results of the project, and then he said, and they're gonna have a specific focus. He said, “They will emphasize and highlight the life, ministry and mission of Jesus Christ and His desire to bless every nation, kindred, tongue, and people.” talk about that ultimate purpose of this project.

Brent Roberts: Of course, the president oftentimes, when we have discussed the project, reiterates to us that the Temple Square itself needs to be focused on the Lord Jesus Christ. And so, in all the work that we have done — both in the gardens, in the statuary, in the pavilions and all the work architecture that we've done, which we've taken to him to be approved, Temple Square itself, where the temple is, focuses on the Lord Jesus Christ, and His mission and His ministry. That emphasis has helped each one of us look a little differently on this construction project. Instead of it being construction, it is truly construction that will end up being a place where people can come and feel the peace and the Spirit of the Lord in all that they do, and so it's significant to us. He has made a great effort, especially with us and, of course, with the world that they truly understand that this should be the center of Christianity here for the Church, and that's what we're trying to accomplish in all our landscaping, in all our buildings, including the historic temple.

Andy Kirby: It’s been a great opportunity to see that counsel as we prepare to opportunities for site plans and improvements to Temple Square. It’s clear that the First Presidency and leadership of the Church wants to continue inviting the world to Salt Lake City, and when they come, to help them feel the Spirit and the message and invitation to follow Jesus Christ. So, I’m excited for the world to see Temple Square in the future and invite people to see that beautiful Salt Lake Temple but also the message of Jesus Christ that will be here at Temple Square.

Andy Kirby, director of historic temple renovations for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, talks to members of the media outside the unfinished entrance of the St. George Utah Temple on Friday, Nov. 6, 2020, in St. George. The new entrance replaces an older one built in the 1970s and reflects the aesthetic of the original temple. The historic temple is undergoing renovations that are expected to be completed in 2022. | Nick Adams, for the Deseret News

Sarah Jane Weaver: The Salt Lake Temple is not the only temple in the Church right now being renovated. How are the other temple renovation projects coming along?

Andy Kirby: As director of historic temple renovations, I have the honor to work on these pioneer-era temples. So, we just finished the Mesa Arizona Temple. It was a great experience to renovate that temple, and it's beautiful and to see the First Presidency give direction to rededicate it. Now it's in use for the people of Mesa, Arizona, to do ordinances there and to be blessed by God. It's special to be a part of that. We also have the St. George Utah Temple being renovated, we’ll be complete with it by the end of this year, and then we have just recently started the renovation of the Manti temple. And it's just special to be working on these beautiful historic buildings that involve so much dedication to be given the opportunity to renew them, to bring their mechanical systems and function for temple patrons up to better standards, but at the same time, preserve the memory, but to help those buildings become symbols of dedication to God, and His love for us into the future. So it's great to be a part of this work and renovating temples.

Sarah Jane Weaver: And we always end each Church News podcast with the same question: It's the question, “What do you know now?” And I'm hoping each of you will take the opportunity to tell us what you have learned after being involved and working with this project, and also share your testimony.

Andy Kirby: One of the main things I've learned in this project is that we can do difficult things, especially if we focus on the Lord and ask for His help. That trials and struggles will be here, but if we keep an eye single to Father in Heaven and seek His guidance in what we do, that He will inspire us, He will give us strength, and He will help us work through those difficulties, and especially, as an opportunity to work on His house, I know that it is His work. I know that He wants to bless us. He wants first to give us temples so that we can be blessed by Him, and He wants us to succeed in our efforts to build temples so that we can become closer to Him. I’ve felt that through the hard work. When we pray in our meetings with contractors and engineers and architects, we seek His guidance and His spirit and inspiration to do difficult things, and I know He helps us all the time.

Brent Roberts: A number of years ago, of course, my wife and I were sealed in Salt Lake Temple. So this is a significant and wonderful project, an honor to be associated with. And to think long-term, that members of the Church worldwide can now come to the Salt Lake Temple, participate in ordinances in their own language, and be able to enjoy what we English-speaking and here in Utah have enjoyed forever, just warms my heart. Again, I’ve said, I’ve come to a firm realization that the gathering of Israel is real, and that this temple on Mount Zion is truly the Lord’s house. It’s humbling, and it’s a blessing and an opportunity to be associated with it and the construction of it. You know, the ordinances are truly what’s important, and we’re just doing what we can to prepare a place so those ordinances can happen, and I think President Nelson’s mission is the same. Yes, the house of the Lord is beautiful, and needs to be beautiful and needs to be done right, but it’s the beauty of the ordinances and the sacredness of what goes on in the temple that is truly important, and we’re just happy to be a part of preparing the way, under the direction of the Presiding Bishopric, preparing a way for those higher ordinances that can happen in the temple. I have learned the truthfulness of that over and over again, as we have sought, the Lord in His guidance, sought our Heavenly Father to guide and direct us and to work out issues and problems, but most importantly, to feel the joy of the successes that we have in the construction thus far.

Brent Roberts, managing director of the special projects department for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, talks to members of the media outside the St. George Utah Temple on Friday, Nov. 6, 2020, in St. George. The historic temple is undergoing renovations that are expected to be completed in 2022. | Nick Adams, for the Deseret News

Sarah Jane Weaver: You have been listening to the Church News podcast. I'm your host, Church News editor Sarah Jane Weaver. I hope you have learned something today about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by peering with me through the Church News window. Please remember to subscribe to this podcast. And if you enjoyed the messages we shared today, please make sure you share the podcast with others. Thanks to our guests, to my producer, KellieAnn Halvorsen, and others who make this podcast possible. Join us every week for a new episode. Find us on your favorite podcasting channel or with other news and updates about the Church on

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