The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints unveiled its first modular temple Monday, the single-spired, nearly 10,000-square-foot edifice in Helena, Mont.
The temple’s modules were constructed in dozens of pieces in Alabama and then shrink-wrapped and transported by semitruck to Helena, according to a news release from the Utah-based faith. Workers then connected the pieces on-site.
The church has been on a temple-building binge of sorts since President Russell M. Nelson assumed the reins in January 2018. The number of existing or planned temples worldwide now numbers 315, according to the church, with Nelson announcing 133 of them, 42% of the total tally.
“This prolific and unprecedented season of temple announcements,” the release said, “has moved church leaders to consider ways to expedite construction while maintaining the same high-quality craftsmanship.”
The church “can’t take five or 10 years to build a temple now and keep up with President Nelson,” W. Christopher Waddell, first counselor in the Presiding Bishopric, said in the release. “[We must find] ways to be more productive, to use sacred resources more effectively, to perhaps change the way we do things in some ways. We can’t build the Salt Lake Temple all over the world.”
One path currently being considered for select temples is the modular construction employed by Alabama-based BLOX.
Right now, temples are erected in “stick-built process where you re-create projects” from scratch on-site, Corinne Ambler, a project director with BLOX, said in the release. BLOX designs and manufactures a temple at its 50-acre plant in Bessemer and then puts those prefabricated pieces — walls, floors and other components — together at the temple site with cranes.
For the Helena Temple, crews built the temple in 25 modules and then transported them to Montana, where the pieces were stitched together. The electrical, plumbing, heating, cooling and ventilation systems, along with exterior art deco stone cladding and tower assembly, were also completed.
Leo Paul, a native of Haiti who now lives in Utah, is an assistant project manager for the Helena Temple. In the release, Paul said the Helena structure made at BLOX was pieced together on-site in a mere two weeks.
The modules “piece together perfectly,” Matt Burke of the church’s Special Projects Department said, so “we can take the temple anywhere in the world.”
Church spokesperson Doug Andersen said the church will use this construction method going forward “for select temples where it makes sense to do so.”
The advantage of modular construction is that “you can build it anywhere and get the construction quality quite high,” said Allen Roberts, a retired architect who has designed and consulted on new and historic temples and meetinghouses, “and you can move the pieces anywhere.”
That allows for a building that “doesn’t require a lot of on-site construction,” Roberts said Monday. “You don’t have to deal with the weather and can get craftsmen who might not be available in all places.”
Roberts designed a modular school addition for South Salt Lake’s Woodrow Wilson Elementary, whose pieces were made in a factory in Smithfield. “It saved a lot of money.”
Modular construction has “some virtues,” he added, “and the church is always looking for ways to save money.”
The challenge will be “making the exterior and interior architectural design equal in quality to the nonmodular ones,” he said. “You don’t want temples or meetinghouses to look like trailers.”
It can be achieved, Roberts said, but it takes “attention to architectural details.”
Beginning Thursday, the public will be invited to tour the art deco edifice, styled to reflect Helena’s “vibrant 19th-century architectural history,” the church said, while including “designs that draw upon the Native American artwork of the area.”
The open house will continue daily through June 3 (except Sundays) and then the sacred structure will be dedicated by apostle Gary E. Stevenson and closed to the public June 18.
Latter-day Saints view a temple as a House of the Lord, a place where the faithful participate in their religion’s highest rites, including eternal marriage.