Unearthed in Salt Lake Temple renovation project, foundation stones link past challenges with present ones

Nine months into the renovation of the Salt Lake Temple, the multi-year project is at a point where the temple’s foundation stones — set nearly 170 years ago — have been unearthed and have become the focal point of strengthening and solidifying.

Just as the Salt Lake Valley has been rocked by a 5.7-magnitude earthquake on March 18, hurricane-force winds on Sept. 8 and the global COVID-19 pandemic during most of those nine months, the temple’s bare foundation stones serve as a reminder of the challenges faced by the early Latter-day Saint pioneers as they set out to build what has become an iconic, sacred edifice for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Renovation of the Salt Lake Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City continues on Tuesday, June 30, 2020.
Renovation of the Salt Lake Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City continues on Tuesday, June 30, 2020. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

“It’s special to see those stones,” said Andy Kirby, the Church’s director of historic temple renovations, in a Sept. 25 report on Newsroom updating the Salt Lake Temple project. “It makes me think of the times in which the stones were laid, the resources that the Saints had during those times and the struggles they were going through.

“Compare it to our days when … we may be struggling with worldwide pandemics and things like that, but our resources are very different and our technology is different.”

Friday’s Newsroom report highlighted the removal of the temple’s sealing wing, north entrance and underground facilities such as the cafeteria and locker rooms in advance of the area’s extensive excavation.

The update also included a video detailing processes and progress.

Kirk Dickamore, who oversees the renovation project for Jacobsen Construction, also was mindful of obstacles facing the early settlers and obstacles facing present renovation crews.

“They came into the valley. They had to build their homes. They had to plant crops. They had issues that they were dealing with,” Dickamore said. “We, too, have had issues with COVID-19, the earthquake and so forth. I know that we can get through it because the Lord is guiding this work and He’s influencing our activities each and every day.”

The earthquake resulted in both a one-week pause as crews made on-site assessments and the expedited removal of the angel Moroni statue and temple spires. However, the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t resulted in any project delays or restrictions, since the state of Utah deems construction work essential.

“[The pandemic] has made us a lot more focused on people’s safety on-site. And not just their physical safety, but also their health and well-being,” said Spencer Loveless, a Jacobsen project manager who oversees scheduling for the Temple Square construction site. “COVID is changing how we can move manpower through the building and how many people can be working next to each other at any one time.”

Renovation of the Salt Lake Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City continues on Tuesday, June 30, 2020.
Renovation of the Salt Lake Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City continues on Tuesday, June 30, 2020. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

The sealing addition, the north entrance and underground facilities were removed to prepare for excavation that will reach depths of 40 to 60 feet.

The resulting rubble and debris are being repurposed and recycled, with rebar and reinforced steel separated from the concrete and steel. The latter is sent off to be crushed and reused in other construction projects.

The strengthening of the foundation — comprised of stones of different sizes and conditions — is preparatory to the installation of the base isolation system, which will help the Salt Lake Temple withstand a high-magnitude earthquake.

The foundation reinforcement and strengthening — the most difficult part of the renovation — will continue through the end of the year.

Three-inch-wide holes are being drilled into the foundation — 8 to 14 feet long in the north and south walls and up to 35 feet in the east and west walls. Those holes will be filled with high-strength grout, binding the existing stones.

As part of strengthening the temple foundation in preparation for the seismic upgrade, these holes are drilled. A rod will be inserted, with fasteners that can tighten both sides of the foundation wall, to add stability. The Salt Lake Temple renovation project, June 2020.
As part of strengthening the temple foundation in preparation for the seismic upgrade, these holes are drilled. A rod will be inserted, with fasteners that can tighten both sides of the foundation wall, to add stability. The Salt Lake Temple renovation project, June 2020. Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

After that, additional holes will be drilled into the walls, for the insertion of metal rods that will help pin the foundation together, said Brandan Rowley, who oversees the seismic part of the project.

Additional preparations prior to the extensive excavation include the installation of vertical shoring piles near North Temple Street and the construction of secant walls around the temple. Made of reinforced piles of interlocking steel beams, four-inch-thick wood lagging and anchoring cables, the ensuing retaining wall will encircle the temple from the foundation to the bottom of the excavation.

For more information on the nine-month update of the Salt Lake Temple renovation project, see the report onNewsroom.ChurchofJesusChrist.org. Ongoing updates on the project’s progress can be found at TempleSquare.org.

President Russell M. Nelson detailed plans for the four-year Salt Lake Temple renovation project on April 19, 2019, announcing the temple’s closure date of Dec. 29 later that year. Project renderings and details were released the day of President Nelson’s announcement, while additional interior renderings of the renovated temple were released just three weeks prior to closure.

Scaffolding surrounds the spires of the Salt Lake Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints during its renovation in Salt Lake City on Sunday, June 14, 2020.
Scaffolding surrounds the spires of the Salt Lake Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints during its renovation in Salt Lake City on Sunday, June 14, 2020. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

“We promise you that you will love the results,” President Nelson. “They will emphasize and highlight the life, ministry and mission of Jesus Christ in His desire to bless every nation, kindred, tongue and people.”

He added: “The project will enhance, refresh and beautify the temple and its surrounding grounds. Obsolete systems within the building will be replaced. Safety and seismic concerns will be addressed.”

One of the most visible early renovation efforts was the May 18 removal of the angel Moroni statue and capstone from the temple. The capstone was later opened, with its historical contents retrieved and inspected.