West Valley City • After operating for more than two decades in a small converted garage, members of Wat Buddhikaram, the state’s only Cambodian Buddhist temple, are expanding the facility.
And they’re paying cash for everything.
The faithful and their friends are donating their money and their labor to construct the Sala Chhan, a multipurpose building that will provide a place to practice Buddhism and preserve Cambodian culture.
In just a short time, the nonprofit Utah Cambodian Community Buddhist Temple Inc. (UCCBT) has raised $395,000 of the estimated $550,000 project cost through monetary contributions, food booths at fairs, festivals, bowling events, yard sales and a Cambodian New Year’s celebration on April 12.
“You name it, we do anything to raise money,” said UCCBT Director Raymond Hour.
Wat Buddhikaram — which serves Buddhists throughout Utah — was founded in 1990 in West Valley City and moved two years later to its current location at 3325 W. 3800 South. Community members bought the 359-foot-by-98-foot lot and temple site for $130,000. A purchase of adjacent land a few years later brought the lot size up to about 1.5 acres.
The current building is the site of chanting and religious services; meditation and dharma classes; lessons in traditional dances; and festivals. Khmer language classes are held on Sundays, helping preserve the community’s heritage. The classes are open to everyone.
Religious guidance is provided by Chief Abbot Sarith So, who assumed the position of Wat Buddhikaram’s head monk last year, and assistant monk Bay Somrith. Both moved to the United States from Cambodia in 2012.
With the community outgrowing the small West Valley City temple, it was time to move into a larger place with room to accommodate about 300 people.
“We’re too small,” UCCBT President Vanny Nhem said. “It [the current building] can handle 30 or 40 people.”
Preserving the culture and traditions is a concern for temple members because of an attempt in the 1970s by Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot to form a farming society and rid Cambodia of links to the past. About 1.7 million inhabitants died under the brutal regime from starvation or execution, including monks, intellectuals, artists and former government officials.
The Sala Chhan will have a 4,000-square-foot main floor and 4,000-square-foot basement. The multipurpose center will feature a Buddhist altar; a section reserved for monks during ceremonies; an area for community members to use for prayer and mediation; two classrooms; an office; a kitchen; and a 91-stall parking lot.
Jack Ashinhurst, a general contractor who is a neighbor in South Jordan of a temple member, is heading the project and donating most of his work. The groundbreaking took place in November and framing of the building has begun.
Fundraising is continuing and there is no target date for completion. Paul Roa, UCCBT auditor, said donors like their money to be earmarked for a specific item, such as a ceiling fan or a parking stall. Others donate their time to the cause.
The largest monetary contributors to date are Hour and his wife, Kimberly, who have donated nearly $103,000. Dozens of others anted up amounts ranging from thousands of dollars to $10 — all of them significant amounts, according to Hour.
“You donate as much as you can,” he said, “according to your heart.”
Wat Buddhikaram is not the only Buddhist center that is expanding in the state. Wat Chaimongkolvararam (The Buddhist Meditation Center of Ogden) is planning to construct a new building where members can practice meditation and learn about the culture.
Want to donate?
Tax-deductible donations for the construction of a new Buddhist temple in West Valley City can be sent to Utah Cambodian Community Buddhist Temple Inc. (UCCBT), 3325 W. 3800 South, West Valley City, UT 84119. For more information, visit watkhmerutah.com or call Ray Hour at 801-913-6995.