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Residents, church members ‘thrilled’ about centralized location of Tooele Valley temple

The site for the Tooele Valley Utah Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Erda, Tooele County, is pictured on Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019.
The site for the Tooele Valley Utah Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Erda, Tooele County, is pictured on Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019.
Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

ERDA, Tooele County — Since a new temple for the Tooele Valley was announced last April by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, local residents and church members have been speculating about where it would be built.

The answer finally came Wednesday.

The new Tooele Valley Utah Temple will be built in the small community of Erda, situated northwest of the intersection of Erda Way and state Route 36. The new temple will be approximately 70,000 square feet and stand three stories tall adjacent to a 20,000 square-foot meetinghouse, with detailed designs, renderings and a groundbreaking date forthcoming.

Everybody assumed Tooele elected officials and the stake presidents knew, but they insist they didn’t, says Tooele Mayor Debbie Winn, who added she was just as surprised as everyone else.

“I’m relieved that it’s finally been announced, because we’ve had hundreds of questions from people wanting to know where it is going. This will put a stop to some of those,” she said. “But I’m thrilled for the people in this valley. I think that will be a wonderful place for the temple. It’s centrally located. I believe it’s the perfect spot.”

Tooele Utah Stake President Todd C. Thompson felt the same way.

“It’s a great location,” President Thompson said. “The highway connects right there. There’s a lot of growth and building out there in Erda right now. The access will be nice. I think we’re all pretty excited about it.”

But not everyone is excited.

Tahya Chadwick takes orders from Jennifer and Pelayo deGumuzio at Virg’s in Erda on Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019. The restaurant sits on part of the property that will eventually be home to the Tooele Valley Utah Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Tahya Chadwick takes orders from Jennifer and Pelayo deGumuzio at Virg’s in Erda, Tooele County, on Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019. The restaurant sits on part of the property that will eventually be home to the Tooele Valley Utah Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

The northwest corner of Erda Way and state Route 36 is home to a family diner restaurant named Virg’s, an insurance business and two small homes.

David Law, the owner of Virg’s, has been leasing the property for his restaurant for more than 20 years. He’s heard rumors for months but was disheartened when he found out last week that he would eventually have to relocate his business.

“I’m not too happy,” he said over the phone. “I’ve spent half my life here.”

Burke Gull, born and raised in the area, set up his State Farm office next door to Virg’s about a year ago and said he negotiated a 10-year lease with the previous landowner.

Gull was informed the church planned to acquire the property and demolish the businesses and two homes for future development. He wondered if it was for the new temple but didn’t know for sure until Wednesday.

“I’m excited for the temple. I think it’s a good thing for Tooele County. I like the idea of having it here,” Gull said. “But what about my livelihood? And how does that affect me and my office, my customers? I guess it will just have to play out for me. Obviously, we have to figure out whatever that looks like. ... I don’t want to go.”

Beyond the 2.98-acre parcel housing the homes and businesses is a Latter-day Saint meetinghouse and the fields of a church farm, which has produced corn, safflower and wheat for decades, said Erda Utah Stake President Travis M. Knudsen.

President Knudsen said his cellphone “exploded” with messages as he drove from Bulgaria to Turkey Wednesday afternoon on a business trip. He didn’t recall specific details, but believes a family donated the land to the church many decades ago. It’s not far from the original Fort Bates, which was established by the first settlers in the 1850s, he said.

Ever since President Russell M. Nelson announced the temple last April in the church’s general conference, members of his stake have been hoping Erda might be considered as a possible location.

Frank Lambert, center, and Lee Galloway, right, eat lunch at the counter at Virg’s in Erda, Tooele County, on Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019. The restaurant sits on part of the property that will eventually be home to the Tooele Valley Utah Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Frank Lambert, center, and Lee Galloway, right, eat lunch at the counter at Virg’s in Erda, Tooele County, on Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019. The restaurant sits on part of the property that will eventually be home to the Tooele Valley Utah Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

“We hoped we would have a shot at having the temple right there where there’s so much history as well as land that has been owned by the church,” President Knudsen said. “We’ve been watching it very closely as an entire stake. It’s pretty exciting.”

There is further speculation about how fast the Tooele Valley Utah Temple will be built as well. When the church announced plans to renovate the Salt Lake Utah Temple on April 19, Elder Larry Y. Wilson, a General Authority Seventy and then the executive director of the church’s Temple Department, told the Deseret News that the Tooele Valley temple would be constructed on an accelerated process to help relieve the pressure on the Salt Lake Temple and other area temples.

“I’ve been told that it will go up in about 22 to 24 months,” President Knudsen said. “It’s going to be fast.”

While they won’t miss fighting the traffic, many local Latter-day Saints will miss serving in the Salt Lake Temple, President Knudsen said.

“There’s a tinge of sorrow because probably 25 to 40 percent of the Salt Lake Temple workers have come from our valley. There has been so much commitment made to the Salt Lake Temple for generations,” he said. “We’re really excited about the Tooele Valley temple, but there’s plenty of folks who already miss the Salt Lake Temple as it goes into the remodeling phase.”

Virg’s in Erda, Tooele County, is pictured on Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019. The restaurant sits on part of the property that will eventually be home to the Tooele Valley Utah Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Virg’s in Erda, Tooele County, is pictured on Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019. The restaurant sits on part of the property that will eventually be home to the Tooele Valley Utah Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

The shortest time for a temple from announcement to dedication was the Monticello Utah Temple. It was built in nine months and 22 days (1997-1998).

Councilman Steve Pruden, chairman of the Tooele City Council and Institute director for Tooele County, was thrilled by the announcement but not surprised.

“There’s a highway there, a traffic light. They already own the land and the water, it’s very centralized and accessible, so it’s a great thing,” Pruden said. “It’s a huge blessing and beautiful beacon right in the middle of the valley.”

Scott Wardle is a member of the Tooele Utah South Stake presidency and a Tooele councilman. While he’s certain the temple will raise property values and bring growth to the valley, it will also bring unity to the community.

“Anytime we can have a temple built, it helps the entire community. It can unify the community,” said Wardle, a Tooele resident for 22 years.

“It can bring different religions together, whether it’s a temple, whether it’s a mosque, but the opportunity to have a temple in the middle of our valley is an absolutely incredible experience. For it to be seen as you come west from I-80 or east from I-80, it will be a great symbol of what it means to come home to this valley.”

The church currently has 17 operating temples in Utah. In addition to Tooele Valley, new temples have also been announced in Layton, Saratoga Springs and Washington County.