Nauvoo Illinois Temple: most well-built

‘As close as is humanly possible’

Despite difficult challenges of recreating a historic building on a fast-track schedule, the completed Nauvoo Illinois Temple may be the most well-built temple in the Church.

Spring was capped before foundation was poured.
Spring was capped before foundation was poured. Credit: Photo Courtesy Temple Construction Department

F. Keith Stepan, managing director of the Temple Construction Department, said the temple's construction quality evaluation received a "99," which is "the highest rating we have ever received on a construction project."

But the rating he and the large team of historians, consultants, architects, contractors, managers, craftsmen and missionaries appreciated most was the visit on April 20 of President Gordon B. Hinckley, who said the new temple is magnificent and beautiful, and that he wouldn't change a thing.

"It is the most well-built temple I have been involved in, in structural strength, in systems as well as beauty," said Brother Stepan. "It is magnificent."

When he was notified that the temple would be rebuilt, his department immediately began to assemble teams to do the job. First, a historical research team of about 10 people was gathered, chaired by Glen M. Leonard, director of the Museum of Church History and Art and author of a new book on Nauvoo. This team gathered historical drawings, read old journals and studied research books. Their findings were given to the Salt Lake City architectural firm of FFKR Architects-Planners to develop a set of "as-built" drawings from which the new temple was designed. Richardson Design Partnership Inc. helped replicate the first two floors from the original drawings.

"I've estimated it to be 95 percent correct," said Brother Stepan, noting that some differences, such as the vertical statue of the Angel Moroni that succeeds the original recumbent weather vane, are intentional. In other areas, such as the east side, which had no drawings, architectural assumptions were made.

Exterior facing is placed on shell. Panels were assembled in Salt Lake City.
Exterior facing is placed on shell. Panels were assembled in Salt Lake City. Credit: Photo Courtesy Temple Construction Department

"I think we are about as close as is humanly possible," he said.

The next team assembled was the contractor, a partnership called Legacy Constructors, with representatives of primary temple building companies of Jacobsen, Okland and Layton construction companies. With Steve Jacobsen of Okland, Rich Holbrook of Layton and Gale Mair of Jacobsen, this company assembled subcontractors and artisans to replicate the unique, 19th century building. Ronald Prince, project administrator for the Church, supervised teams of missionary couples, some of whom are retired engineers, who made significant contributions.

One of the most difficult challenges, said Brother Stepan and Brother Mair, Legacy's project manager, were fitting mechanical and electrical systems, as well as elevators and stairwells, into the preset size of the building shell, which had to be earthquake proof, while meeting modern building codes. Materials were selected to meet a 100-year endurance standard. An outside mechanical building was constructed to house air handling equipment, which tunneled to the temple using a modern, unique design. Equipment was cleverly shoehorned tightly together throughout the building's small spaces.

At the start of the project, the underground spring that fed the original baptismal font had to be dug out, capped and drained.

Perhaps the most difficult challenge was the stonework — more than 14,000 stones that were individually designed with extremely tight tolerances.

Panel containing stones carved across U.S., and Canada, is hoisted by crane to be bolted to
Panel containing stones carved across U.S., and Canada, is hoisted by crane to be bolted to Credit: Photo Courtesy Temple Construction Department

"We went to probably a dozen quarries and hired a stone consultant. We did a lot of strength and endurance tests; that was a big project, finding the final stone," said Brother Stepan. "We ended up with three proposals and the First Presidency made the final selection."

Complicating the project was the addition in the last few months of 24 buildings with 60 apartments for temple workers, and a 200-car parking complex. "Our team in Nauvoo, our Legacy team, has done a marvelous job," he said.

"We have had almost a miracle with the weather. One of the local people, a landscaper, said there must be a bubble over Nauvoo because we have had terrible storms all around us, but we seemed to be able to work all winter long."

Of the completion of the temple he said, "For me this is part of the restoration of the gospel, a prophetic step in what is happening in this day and age. I get emotional about it every time I visit the city; I have a great feeling of peace."

Brother Mair explained that the stone was shipped from its Alabama quarry to nearly half a dozen cutting sites in Canada and the United States where expert carvers prepared them.

"The average sunstone took 300 hours to carve," he said. Fiberglass models and eight-inch-thick stones were "distributed to many carvers."

If carvers got down to the final stages and hit a vein or fissure, the imperfection rendered the stone useless, forcing carvers to begin the entire process again with a new block of stone.

The completed stone was bolted to stainless steel panels, assembled in Salt Lake City and shipped to Nauvoo, where the panel was bolted to the concrete walls and sealed with epoxy.

As the work progressed, it was helped by many subcontractors who are Church members, some of whom have become specialists in temple construction. These and other workers from the local area understood and maintained the high level of workmanship of temple standards.

However, some skills had to be acquired. For example, the interior plastered walls are unusual. "We went through a severe learning curve," Brother Mair said. "Many times we put plaster on the wall and then we had to take it off again and do it over to get the quality that is required in a temple."

He said as far as structure and quality are concerned, "it is the best-built temple in the Church. It is an outstanding building."

"I live about two blocks from the temple, and as I go home at night, I turn around and walk backwards to get my last look at the temple."