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PROVO — When neighbors of the Missionary Training Center of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gather Thursday evening to talk to church officials about plans to build a new nine-story building on the MTC campus, they'll not only get to talk about the building, they'll get to see it.
The LDS Church today released an architect's rendering of the as-yet-unnamed building, which will be built on the MTC campus where the Melvin J. Ballard Building is currently located. The Ballard Building is known to generations of LDS missionaries as the location for the MTC bookstore, mailroom and Training Resource Center.
In addition to the rendering of the new building itself, LDS officials will also show neighbors several additional renderings that provide a view of how the new building will look from various locations in the surrounding area.
"Some of our neighbors have been justifiably concerned about the impact of a nine-story building on their view," said Richard L. Heaton, MTC director, during an interview in the MTC administration building Wednesday. "There's no question there will be some intrusion on the view. But I think when you look at these renderings you can see that it isn't as intrusive as you think it might be."
For that reason Heaton said he encourages those who live in the area to come to the Thursday meeting, which is scheduled to being at 6 p.m. in the Rock Canyon Elementary School gym, 2405 N. 650 East in Provo. Meeting attendees are encouraged to enter through the west door.
Neighbors can also see the renderings on a website specifically designed for them: www.mtc.byu.edu/neighbors.html. The web site includes an explanation of the project and answers to frequently asked questions as well as the renderings, and it offers a feedback mechanism so individual concerns can be registered and addressed.
"We've been studying this for three years now," Heaton said. "We knew we had a situation that we needed to deal with, and we've explored dozens of options to deal with it. We believe this is the best option for both the church and the neighborhood."
The "situation" to which Heaton referred is building obsolescence.
"A number of our buildings are now more than 30 years old — and these are buildings that have had heavy, heavy, heavy, heavy use," he said. "Their heating, cooling and plumbing systems are at the end of their life cycle. Those systems are obsolete — it's hard to find parts to fix them. These buildings are just worn out."
For the past few years the MTC has been going through a period of renovation, particularly to the residence halls that provide housing to the 2,500 missionaries who are being trained at the MTC at any given time. Heaton said that work on six of the eight residence halls will be complete by the end of the year.
"The work on the residence halls is moving along well because we can close one hall for seven or eight months and squeeze the missionaries into other halls while we renovate," he said. "But the training buildings are another matter. There are as many as 60 classrooms in these buildings. There just isn't anywhere for us to absorb that many classrooms while a new building is being built. If you take one of the training buildings down, where do you put the missionaries?"
The buildings are also technologically deficient. "They weren't built for modern technology," Heaton said. "They were built for a time when we needed lots of private space where missionaries could go to sit alone and memorize. We don't work that way any more. We are very interactive, and we rely a lot on modern technology. Technologically retrofitting these buildings takes a lot of time and money."
During the past three years, dozens of specific options have been considered as possible solutions to the problem, Heaton said. Those options included:
Renovation of existing buildings
Additions to existing buildings
Replacement of existing buildings with multiple smaller buildings, or even two five-story buildings
New construction on church-owned property to the north, east and south of the MTC
Decentralization of missionary training
Establishment of additional MTCs in the United States
Greater use of international MTCs (actually taking place)
Reduction of MTC training time (currently being tested)
Eventually all of the options were eliminated except the nine-story building.
"Some of the options didn't meet our needs," Heaton said. "Others limited our options for future growth. Some were eliminated because of excessive costs. And others expanded the current MTC footprint, which we saw as being more intrusive on the local community than building a nine-story building."
A group of decision-makers, which included the LDS Church's First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, determined that the most reasonable alternative was to demolish the Ballard Building and construct the new building in its place.
"After we moved the bookstore and the mailroom to other locations on the campus, the Ballard Building only had 20 classrooms that we have to absorb elsewhere," Heaton said. "We can do that."
Demolition of the Ballard Building is scheduled to begin in July, with completion of the new building anticipated late in 2014.
Heaton said that each floor of the new 161-foot tall building will feature 16 classrooms, one or two large workshop rooms, seven or eight small practice teaching rooms, two computer labs and quiet space for prayer and reflection. Once the new building is operational, the other four training buildings will be demolished to make room for something that is in short supply on the current MTC campus: green space.
Of course, the demolition of five buildings and the construction of a new large building on the MTC campus will have some impact on the surrounding community, which is another reason why the community meeting is being held Thursday evening.
"We're going to do everything we can to minimize neighborhood impacts," Heaton said. "Construction-related traffic will be routed on 900 East or University Parkway through BYU parking lots, and not on neighborhood streets. Work hours will be limited to be from 7 a.m. until 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. Construction workers will be asked to park in the church parking lot, and not on neighborhood streets.
"We can't do this project without having some impact," Heaton continued. "But there are a lot of things we can do to keep that impact to a minimum."
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