Provo • Two years from now, if Mormon missionaries are sweating during a training lesson, it'll be because they're nervous, not because the room is sweltering.
The LDS Church is preparing to replace its aging classroom buildings at the Missionary Training Center with a single, nine-story high-rise equipped with modern computer systems and an up-to-date heating and cooling system.
Richard Heaton, director of the MTC next to Brigham Young University, unveiled plans Wednesday for the new Melvin J. Ballard Building. The church is conducting a meeting Thursday night to talk with residents about the project.
"These are our neighbors," Heaton said. "We want this to be a positive influence for them."
The church has also set up a website that includes photos of how the new building will look from various places.
That look is what concerns Paul Evans, chairman of the nearby Pleasant View Neighborhood, who worries the building will be far too tall and potentially change the character of the community.
"What development are we likely to attract to the neighborhood with a nine-story building?" Evans asked. "And what kind of development are we not going to attract?"
Evans said The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints should consider alternatives that respect residents' concerns.
Heaton said the church weighed several options when it decided the current Ballard Building, named for an LDS apostle who opened South America to Mormon missionaries in the 1920s, and four other MTC structures had reached the end of their useful lives.
The buildings, erected in 1976 and 1978, have plumbing that breaks down, and ventilation systems that leave classrooms at a stifling 80 degrees in the summer.
Unlike the MTC's four-story dormitories, the classroom buildings cannot be renovated. For one thing, Heaton said, the campus doesn't have room to house the classes while the buildings are refitted. In addition, the buildings do not have the necessary space between floors to install new duct work. Nor can they be fitted for computer network cables because of their masonry walls.
Among the options considered were expanding to property on the north, east or south, shunting missionaries off to training around the world or even building a new MTC at the BYU-Idaho campus in Rexburg.
"We even looked at decentralizing the classes and using Skype," Heaton said.
Those ideas all were rejected as impractical, too expensive or too restrictive on future growth.
Evans said the church perhaps should build two five-story buildings instead, which would provide the needed space without overwhelming the neighborhood.
Heaton said that option was considered, but it's cheaper to build one nine-story structure.
The project fits city height regulations and does not have to go to the Planning Commission for approval.
Brent Wilde, Provo's assistant director of community development, said the city will review the plans when the church seeks building permits.
About 24,000 Mormon missionaries pass through the Provo training center every year to learn foreign languages and how to teach the LDS message before they embark on proselytizing stints in more than 120 countries across the globe.
There are 14 other LDS missionary training centers in the world, but Provo's is the largest, handling 80 percent of the load.
Missionary and MTC figures
52,483 • Number of full-time Mormon missionaries
24,000 • Number of missionaries at Provo MTC in a year
2,700 • Average number of missionaries at Provo's MTC at any one time
340 • Number of LDS missions worldwide
80 • Percentage of missionaries trained at Provo's MTC, the faith's largest
15 • Number of MTCs worldwide
The LDS Church will hold a neighborhood meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday at Rock Canyon Elementary to discuss the nine-story Melvin J. Ballard Building it will build at the Missionary Training Center.