Brigham Young Academy given a second life

People can live without learning and libraries — but not very well, said Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve.

Addressing a large crowd on the grounds of the former Brigham Young Academy prior to its dedication as a library, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said he was "unprepared for how beautiful this building is."
Addressing a large crowd on the grounds of the former Brigham Young Academy prior to its dedication as a library, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said he was "unprepared for how beautiful this building is." Photo: Photo by Jason Olson

A longtime educator, Elder Holland seemed at home standing outside the newly restored Academy Square for the building's rededication ceremony Sept. 8. The historic Academy Square structure, once part of BYU's lower campus in downtown Provo, Utah, has now been opened as a city library following a massive renovation effort funded by a multi-million dollar municipal bond and private donations.

"I was unprepared for how beautiful this building is," said Elder Holland, one of several speakers who participated in the ceremony. He and others commented on the virtue of libraries, books and the value of lifelong learning.

The 108-year-old building — which once housed Brigham Young Academy (high school) and college classes — is a special place for Elder Holland. He thanked the many who fought for Academy Square's restoration, calling the library project an important effort to preserve history and promote personal development.

"Today we feel the thrill of linking the past with the present, and the present with the future," Elder Holland said. "Whatever the difficulty in arriving at this lovely moment, everyone is to be commended for the preservation of this beautiful old BYU Academy structure now housing one of the loveliest new libraries I have seen in this state or anywhere else."

The event doubled as a homecoming of sorts for Elder Holland and his family.

"During my student years our campus ward met on this 'lower campus'," he said. "We held sacrament meeting in the gym directly across the street, and Sunday School classes were taught in these buildings — one class of which I was privileged to teach. My wife, Pat, was a young Relief Society president in that ward and then during the week took classes here as a music major. The Hollands have lots of memories linked to these buildings and the history they represent."

Elder Holland added the Church's charitable foundation provided a "generous gift" to the library project. He emphasized that the gift came from the earnings of the Church's business corporations — not tithing donations.

Provo's library director, Eugene Nelson, said libraries have offered him passage into the literary worlds of Hemingway, Stephen Crane and J.R.R. Tolkien.

"This building radiates a power," he said. "A power of learning. A power of potential. A power of people."

Cynthia Clark, a past chairwoman of the Provo library board, thanked the community for supporting the Academy Square restoration project, calling libraries "the heart and soul of a community."

In this Internet age, "libraries remain one of the few places that bring us together," she said.

Brigham Young Academy Foundation President Doug Smoot thanked the many donors, craftsmen and architects who worked behind the scenes of the restoration project. Their efforts — coupled with Provo residents who supported the municipal bond — helped preserve "the most endangered, historical building in the entire West," he said.

The library project was one of the greatest community efforts ever undertaken by the city, Provo Mayor Lewis K. Billings said.

"This is a unique place," Mayor Billings said. "A place of learning, a place for the community to gather together, a place that the people of Provo made happen."

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