Monday, November 18, 2013

Indian Summer And Fireside

I attended a wonderful fireside Sunday evening hosted by the High Priests Quorum of the Provo Sharon East Stake.  Elder and Sister Newitt, the construction missionaries who have been called to serve at the site until the temple's completion, were the first two speakers.  I also spoke with Elder Newitt before the fireside began, and I will incorporate what I learned last night into this post.
Elder Newitt, a professor of construction management at BYU for forty years before his retirement, has become an expert on the history of the tabernacle.  During the fifteen years between the groundbreaking of the tabernacle in 1883 and its dedication in 1898, the members of the Church in the Provo Stake were not only sacrificing to build this tabernacle, but they were also funding other buildings in Provo, plus the Salt Lake Temple.  In addition, they were building their own homes, planting their own farms and raising large families.  The effort they put forth to construct this beautiful building was expended at great sacrifice.
The stake president at the time spoke to the stake in a conference and told the saints that he had a contrary horse on his farm, and he was going to sell it and donate the proceeds toward the completion of the tabernacle.  He encouraged the members of the stake, which spread from Lehi to Santaquin, to do the same.  Apparently a lot of contrary horses were sold that year, because at the next conference, the tabernacle was dedicated.
The tabernacle had been used for two general conferences in 1886 and 1887 during years of intense persecution, but it was far from being completed.  There were no windows or doors, and the floor was still dirt.  Benches were brought in for the conference.  A pipe organ was installed nine years after the dedication.  Its pipes stretched up along the west wall.  After the fire in 2010, the metal from the organ pipes was found in a melted blob.  Interestingly, not far away a Koala Kare baby changing table was found undamaged.
In 1917 the roof began to sag under the weight of the center spire.  The building was actually condemned until the spire was removed.  A new roof was built at a cost of $1,745.
A new central spire will be placed on the roof of the temple.  It is currently waiting in the north lot.
The steel beams supporting the center spire will actually support the roof, instead of the roof supporting the spire.
Sister Newitt, not wearing the usual hard hat and steel-toed boots which she wears at the site, told us that the 2010 fire destroyed the skilled craftsmanship of the pioneers which had lasted for 125 years.  Also lost in the fire was a valuable painting by Minerva Teichert. She mentioned that A. LeGrand Richards, the president of the Provo South Stake where the tabernacle resides, still has the key to the tabernacle door on his key ring.
Sister Newitt walks the site every day and interacts with the workmen.  She has been impressed with the dedication and hard work the men put forth in building this temple.  All are very strong, skilled, and they easily carry their heavy tool belts.  They labor in difficult and dangerous conditions, in temperatures over 100 degrees and below freezing.  Some are not LDS, but even still they consider it a privilege to work on this magnificent structure.  She is inspired by their efforts and believes the original pioneers would be pleased with the work going on today.
Andy Kirby, a senior project manager over special projects, was the concluding speaker.  He told us that to him, the tabernacle is a symbol of rebirth.  At the time of the fire, it was thought to be a tremendous loss.  However, just as a tragedy has changed the function of this building, through the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we can each become stronger and serve with a renewed purpose through our trials.
Brother Kirby mentioned that the steel framework which will support the chandelier in the celestial room will also house art glass.  The sections for this glass can be seen in this picture.  I learned today at the site that the fire melted the lead, causing all the art glass windows to shatter. Remnants of the glass are in possession of the craftsmen who are designing the eighty new windows.  It is hoped that the original pioneer glass can be ground and reused.
Tempered glass will soon fill the spaces between the plywood in the windows on the ground level, and once the roof is complete, the windows in the upper level will also be filled in.  The workmen are very busy preparing the interior with pipes for water, drains and fire sprinklers.  The hanging wires will soon hold ducts for air-conditioning and heating.
Brother Kirby was hired by the Church after the fire to rebuild the tabernacle.  His department came up with two designs.  The first was an accurate description of the tabernacle which was used for the insurance claim.  During this process the building had to be shored up to protect the fire investigators.  Pictures were taken of the newel posts and other skilled work by the pioneer builders.  The second design Brother Kirby's team created was to rebuild the structure.  
Six months after the fire, Brother Kirby was asked to study the tabernacle to see if it could function as a temple.  His team used the two designs to plan a new temple.  For four months, only 25 people knew the leaders of the Church were considering rebuilding the tabernacle as a temple.  He said the gasp heard during President Monson's announcement in the October 2011 conference was a special experience.
Brother Kirby had concerns that the areas needed for a modern temple would not fit in the shell of the old tabernacle.  The Church began buying adjacent properties, including the parking garage from Nu Skin, First South from the City of Provo, and other properties between First and Second South.  His team came up with the idea to use underground extensions east and west of the tabernacle to provide enough room to have a functioning temple.  Ninety-foot piers supported the tabernacle which allowed two stories to be dug below ground.
 A gospel principle Brother Kirby wanted us to understand was that we should expect miracles to solve the problems we face.  This photo shows the "lid," Brother Kirby's word, of the north annex, which was poured last week and which will be completely underground.  Underneath it is dark and quiet.  The supports and waffle plating will not be removed until the concrete has fully cured.

Brother Kirby told us that the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles directed the re-purposing of the tabernacle into a temple.  Brother Kirby's team was asked to preserve what they could of the time period, as the building represents our forefathers' dedication to God.
  Seen here is the north entrance to the tabernacle, now a construction entrance above the annex.  The area behind this doorway will ultimately be a chapel.  Brother Kirby told us the original pulpit from the tabernacle was saved from the fire and will be placed in this room.  Also, a set of scriptures from the tabernacle will be returned to the building.
The ground level will be designed with Eastlake architecture.  The upper level will be in a style known as Pioneer Gothic, a variation of the elaborate Victorian design.  These windows, below the north gable which collapsed with the roof during the fire, will be part of a large sealing room with double vaulted arches.  Brother Kirby is excited for us to see this.
I was particularly touched by Brother Kirby's words when he taught us another gospel principle.  He said that his team was comprised of architects, structural engineers and many other contractors.  However, often the solutions to difficult problems came from the workmen who used their knowledge, skills and expertise.  He said, "Don't think you always have the right answer."  He asked us to rely on the Spirit to provide solutions to difficulties in our lives.
Brother Kirby was pleased to learn that the tower caps could be saved, something many doubted was possible.  The workman in this photo, and an associate inside the tower, have placed steel girders across the tower.  (I watched them walk across it.)  This is in preparation for the tower cap to be replaced.
It became very clear during the fireside that Brother Kirby is a civil engineer, because he enjoyed finding gospel principles in concrete and rebar.  He explained that the green rebar is covered with epoxy which will protect it from the corrosion from salt dripping off cars in the parking garage.  Using this concept as a gospel principle, he asked us to examine our foundation and make sure it will resist any corrosive elements.
Brother Kirby told us that the workmen hope to have the tabernacle closed in by the end of the year.  A tremendous amount of work has transpired since they began excavating in January. 
The engineers and workmen have overcome significant obstacles to preserve this pioneer building and turn it into a temple.  Brother Kirby told us that Father in Heaven is providing the inspiration to make this possible.  Each meeting begins with prayer.
During the groundbreaking for the new temple, Elder Holland blessed the project, a first for Brother Kirby as he had just started working for the Church.  He asked us to continue to pray for the workmen, who are using their skills and talents to move this work forward.


dSquared said...

I am so thankful for the more than 11 months that you have dedicated to this effort. I wasn't on-board with your blog until mid year so it's wonderful to see the archives, and of course someday most will be hidden and this will be an even bigger treasure.

Unknown said...

thanks for doing this.It has saved me the gas to drive down to provo to see the progress. I really appreciate your dedication to take the pictures you have taken. Thanks G. Beach