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Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
The LDS Church's Jordan River Utah Temple, in South Jordan Utah on Monday, March 12, 2018.

SOUTH JORDAN, Utah — While pointing out marble, mahogany, artwork and art-glass features during Monday’s media tour of the newly renovated Jordan River Utah Temple, two LDS Church leaders paused in one of the sacred edifice’s sixteen sealing rooms to share poignant personal moments.

Elder Larry Y. Wilson, a General Authority Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and executive director of the faith’s Temple Department, recalled being a seven-year-old boy in 1957 and joining his parents and two younger sisters in the Idaho Falls Temple in an ordinance — or religious rite — where marriage and family relationships are blessed to extend beyond mortality.

“As they knelt at the altar,” he said of his parents, “we were able to also kneel with them, place our hands upon their hands to be sealed as an eternal family. That is one of the most important events that has ever occurred in my life.”

Sister Joy D. Jones, the church’s Primary general president, expressed feeling a closeness with her son, Trevor, who passed away nearly six months ago at the age 39 after a valiant three-year battle with cancer.

“I’ve watched my children grow up through the Jordan River Temple — it’s been a sacred experience for our family,” she said, noting her family moved from California to Draper 23 years ago. Sister Jones said that, upon reaching the age of 12, her children have gone to the Jordan River Temple to do sacred ordinance work for deceased ancestors. Such was the case with her son, Trevor.

“He feels so close to me when I’m here,” she added of being both in the Jordan River Temple specifically and all temples in general. “It just feels that there is no separation between us. It’s an amazing thing to lose a loved one and to realize that there’s still so close, they’re still part of us. I don’t see death as a separation anymore … he is always close, but somehow being in the temple just brings him extremely close.”

And so, Elder Wilson and Sister Jones — both members of the faith’s Temple and Family History Executive Committee — not only detailed the physical features associated with the remodeling and refreshing of the nearly 37-year-old Mormon temple in central Salt Lake Valley, but also tried to share how temples and worship there can help shape spiritual lives.

“It changes your perspective on everything,” Elder Wilson said. “It changes how you look at your family members, how you act towards them, what you try to build in terms of the relationships you have with them, because you recognize that they are going to extend beyond this life in the next and that they are of an eternal nature.”

And Sister Jones explained how the temple helps strengthen her as she faces challenges. “There are a lot of ups and downs in this life,” she said, “and we can face them with a big smile and gratitude because we know who our God is, we know He loves us perfectly and we know that He sent His Son to save us from sin. And that’s glorious.”

Prior to closing in February 2016, the Jordan River Utah Temple served some 200,000 Mormons in 66 stakes — a stake being similar to a Catholic diocese — residing within the temple district. The temple will be open for a public open house from Saturday, March 17, through Saturday, April 28, except Sundays and Saturday, March 31, the latter being the first day of the church’s April 2018 general conference. Online reservations for the tour can be made at templeopenhouse.lds.org.

The temple will be rededicated on Sunday, May 20, in sessions and will reopen on Tuesday, May 22, to faithful Mormons holding a temple recommend.

LDS temples differ from more-common chapels and meetinghouses. Church members make formal commitments to God in temples. They are a place where couples are married and families are sealed together for eternity.

Renovations include building reinforcements, seismic upgrades, mechanical and electrical upgrades, hard-celling installations and the removal of escalators. Additions include a new entrance for the baptistry and a new exit for brides and grooms — out the temple’s back side on the west end and opening up to an expansive courtyard. Newly married couples previously emerged from the temple to waiting family and friends at the front entrance, creating congestion problems with regular temple patrons.

Interior materials include marble from Italy and Turkey, mahogany from Africa and fabrics from Thailand and China. Landscaping of the 15-acres site located at 10200 S. 1300 West in South Jordan includes the planting of some 10,000 perennials.

Meanwhile, many of the temple’s elements remain the same or have been enhanced — the draped-motif design is common to the interior and exterior, the lower-level cafeteria will be retained (while similar temple cafeterias are being discontinued at renovation time), the thick, colorful art glass for the windows and towers have been cleaned (with the tower’s glass now backlit), and the gold-leafed Angel Moroni statue atop the spire remains only one of five in the church where Moroni holds a set of plates representative of the Book of Mormon.

Boasting 148,236 square feet total over five levels, the Jordan River Utah Temple remains the fourth-largest of the church’s 159 operating temples and is the largest as far as patron occupancy, with its six instruction rooms able to seat 125 each. It is expected to return as one of the faith’s busiest temples.

On Feb. 3, 1978, then-LDS Church President Spencer W. Kimball originally announced the Jordan River Temple in a news conference; he helped break ground on June 9, 1979 by operating a a Caterpillar tractor with a large, power-scoop shovel.

Layton Construction Co. of Salt Lake City was awarded the construction contract with a bid of $12.55 million for the edifice that was projected at $15 million, with dollar amounts for temple constructions and renovations no longer released by the church. It was built at a time when temples construction was funded by member donations and contributions.

Craig P. Burton, coordinator of the temple’s open house, dedication and cultural celebration committee, recalled his young family — including wife Linda K. Burton, a previous general Relief Society president, and their children — making donations beyond their regular tithing contributions for the temple project. The church announced three days before the groundbreaking that donations had covered the projected building cost, with excess monies being used for operations and maintenance for several years after the temple opened.

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The temple's original open house, which ran from Sept. 29 to Oct. 31, 1981, drew more than a half-million people. The 2018 open house is projected to attract as much as twice that number.

It became the second temple to be built in the Salt Lake Valley, 88 years after the iconic Salt Lake Temple, and the church’s 20th operating temple.

The new Jordan River Temple was dedicated on Nov. 16, 1981, by President Marion G. Romney, then second counselor in the First Presidency. Fifteen dedicatory sessions were conducted Nov. 16-20.

Correction: A previous version of the photo gallery in this story incorrectly identified the temple chapel as an instruction room.