OREM — Utah Valley State College has a lot in common with the freeway that runs parallel to its Orem campus.

Like I-15, the school is trying to accommodate recent growth but always seems to be playing catch-up, rather than getting ahead.

The college's LDS Institute of Religion, however, wants to stay ahead of the curve and make room now for an expected surge in students — many who belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

"We're growing all the time, and there is need for expansion," said Walt Norton, secretary of enrollment for the UVSC institute. "We will grow out of this building, and we will need additional space."

Norton said that school and church leaders have been in negotiations about constructing an additional institute building on campus. Adding on to the landlocked building isn't an option, however, thanks to a 1998 addition, which added 100,000 square feet to the existing 47,000-square-foot building.

With space scarce and parking limited, constructing a building could prove difficult and pricey.

"There are some other pieces of property that would accommodate a new building, but there's nothing concrete," said Val Peterson, a UVSC vice president.

"These are very preliminary discussions at this point."

Peterson pointed out that the church owns the parking lot across the street from the existing institute and could possibly build there. However, there are other scenarios in the works, which will likely be addressed in a master plan being drafted by the college, he said.

In any event, Peterson said, UVSC will work with the church to accommodate its institute programs.

"We see the institute as something that is very important to our students so we want our students to have a good experience and see it as something that is important for them in their educational process," he said.

While UVSC doesn't keep statistics on how many of its students are LDS, it's estimated that some 85 percent of Utah County residents are LDS. And more than 6,300 UVSC students are enrolled in institute classes — making it the largest LDS institute program in the world.

"Our rapid growth equates to rapid growth for them," UVSC spokesman Derek Hall said. "It's a big draw for out-of-state students who want to have access to classes like those (offered) at BYU."

Nearby Brigham Young University, which is church-owned, boasts more LDS students than UVSC, but since religion courses are a mandatory part of the curriculum, the school doesn't have an institute of religion program.

But that doesn't make one school more spiritual than the other, UVSC student Jennifer Smith said.

Many UVSC students purposefully live in apartments whose owners enforce a strict moral code in order to board BYU students, she pointed out.

"Studying the gospel is the same no matter where you do it," Smith said. "And the more opportunities you provide to do it, the more students can add a spiritual dimension to their education."

While expansion plans have not been finalized, Norton said that both the college and the institute will have to address growth, which is expected to bring UVSC enrollment to 35,000 by 2012.

"We have to look ahead," he said.

E-mail: lwarner@desnews.com