By Michaela Kron

Starting July 1, the Atlanta Georgia Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will close its doors for 15 to 18 months for renovations.

The Sandy Springs Design Review Board approved the changes June 9.

The temple, at 6450 Barfield Road, will have major landscape and hardscape renovations on 9 acres of the 13-acre site. In addition to the temple building, two auxiliary buildings — a church building for Sunday worship and an apartment building for members who visit from out of town — will be renovated.

The church will replace the asphalt on the site with concrete and replace all doors and windows as well as all sidewalks and curbs. To allow for easier access, the church will remove its steep north driveway and replace the northeast entrance with landscaping.

“In order to be compliant with all of the now-new building codes and be more user-friendly from a handicapped perspective, it’s just time for some changes, and a lot of things are just kind of worn out,” said Dean Black, the Mormon temple’s president.

Mark Romney, the temple building engineer, said the landscape renovation will create gardens with walking paths and a large plaza with raised planters and ornamental trees around the temple. “It’ll just be a beautiful, peaceful place to go walk and meditate.”

The interior of the temple, which is 26 years old, will undergo a full face lift. All ceilings, walls and floors will be removed and renovated, and the mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems will be updated.

After the renovation, Romney said, the temple’s interior will closely resemble the elegant Oquirrh Mountain Utah Temple in South Jordan, Utah.

“It’ll be the finest materials that we have available,” Romney said.

The church has contracted with Hardin Jacobsen Joint Venture, a construction company based in Salt Lake City, to carry out the work. The tithes of church members will pay for the multimillion-dollar undertaking by the time the temple reopens in late 2010 or early 2011.

Church members said the improvements are worth the time and expense.

“If we believe, as the sign in the front of the temple says, that this is a house of God, then we would sacrifice whatever it took for it to be as beautiful as we possibly can make it,” said Wendy Sharp, a church member and the church’s regional public affairs director.

The church began planning the renovations three years ago and worked closely with the Design Review Board, which provided guidance based on local building codes. In addition, during the early planning, the church presented each of its neighbors with a letter detailing the renovation plan.

“They were very excited about it,” Romney said. “We had no problems getting each of our neighbors to sign off on our proposal.”

The church has continued to communicate regularly with neighbors and homeowners associations about the renovations and has kept them aware of what to expect before and during construction.

“They’ve been great neighbors to us, so we’re hoping to be good neighbors to them,” Romney said.

In preparing for the renovations, most church members who regularly attend the temple have arranged to attend other Mormon churches in the Southeast, particularly the temples in Birmingham, Ala., and Columbia, S.C. Some members plan to visit other temples as they travel throughout the country to visit family and friends.

“Wherever we visit, we just go to a temple,” said Dena Brett, the church’s spokeswoman for the Atlanta area, who plans to visit the Birmingham temple.

Black said that while many members are “frustrated that the temple is going to be taken out of their lives for 15 to 18 months,” they will be satisfied with the result.

“I think they understand that it’s going to be much nicer when they come back and much more user-friendly,” Black said. “This is nice, but it’s nothing compared to what it’s going to be.”