1 of 4
Tom Smart, Deseret News
LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson, far right, joins Beverley Taylor Sorenson, center in red, James Sorenson and other dignitaries participate in the groundbreaking ceremony on the Beverley Taylor Sorenson Arts & Education Complex at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City Tuesday, June 14, 2011.

Government, religious and education leaders gathered at the University of Utah Tuesday to break ground on an arts and education complex to be named for the future building's key benefactor, Beverley Taylor Sorenson.

In connection with the Sorenson Legacy Foundation, Beverley Sorenson gifted some $12 million to construct the facility expected to enrich the training of educators while offering art opportunities for tens of thousands of Utah children.

"This is a special building and it is going to change the university," said the school's acting president, David W. Pershing, at the morning groundbreaking ceremony.

LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson, Utah State Senate President Michael Waddoups and Utah Speaker of the House Rebecca Lockhart joined Pershing on the program, along with several members of the school's administration.

All paid tribute to the 87-year-old former schoolteacher, who has long championed education and the arts.

"She's truly an angel upon the earth who shares with others gladly and generously," said President Monson, a longtime friend of Sorenson and her late husband, industrialist James L. Sorenson. "May the building which will become the Beverley Taylor Sorenson Arts and Education Complex, which will be a blessing to countless individuals, generation after generation, ever represent the sweet and loving spirit of this noble woman."

The church leader said he and Taylor Sorenson are both Salt Lake City products of the Great Depression, which taught them the importance of kindness and compassion. "Beverley has demonstrated these attributes throughout her life."

James and Beverley Sorenson were "partners in every sense of the word" in their efforts to help the lives of others, he added.

A graduate of the U., President Monson felt right at home on the grounds of the campus. He drew cheers after singing a line from the Ute fight song — "Who am I sir? A Utah man am I!" — and spoke of his fond memories of the school.

The Beverley Taylor Sorenson Arts and Education Complex "will be one of the nation's most dynamic facilities" of its kind, Waddoups said. He lauded Taylor Sorenson as a champion and pioneer of education in Utah.

The excitement of the future building isn't limited to the university community, said Lockhart, "but (also for) art supporters all over the state of Utah."

Michael L. Hardman, the dean of the college of education, and Mary Ann Lee, who directs the Tanner Dance Program that will be housed in the future building, also spoke of the educational and artistic impact the future complex will have in the lives of Utah children and their teachers.

Commencing construction on the arts and education complex "is like a dream come true," said Taylor Sorenson. She spoke of the contributing role of many teachers, parents, school administrators and lawmakers.

"Nobody does this alone — everyone here is a part of what happens," she said.

Many at the ceremony noted her role in working with the state Legislature in 2008 to develop the Beverley Taylor Sorenson Arts Learning Program, which allocates $16 million toward improving art education opportunities for young Utah school children.

The 84,000-square-foot complex will be located adjacent to the Milton Bennion Hall and is expected to be completed in a couple of years. The building will support five main activities: academic research, interdisciplinary pre-service teacher and arts specialist training, professional development for teachers and education leaders, programming for schools, youth and families and community involvement and leadership.

EMAIL: jswensen@desnews.com