By Whitney Evans, Deseret News
Published: Thursday, May 15 2014 6:40 p.m. MDT
SALT LAKE CITY — Two gold and white lion statues stand as symbols of protection in front of the Utah Cambodian Community Buddhist Temple.
Crumbling concrete on the driveway to the north foreshadows the building’s fate. Soon the temple, or Sala Chann, will be demolished, paved over and used as a parking lot for a new temple.
Cardboard boxes are stacked on the lawn, and bricks are piled up next to a small home where three monks live — evidence of the change at hand.
In an effort to raise funds for the new temple, members of the Cambodian Buddhist community in Utah will sell Cambodian food during the Living Traditions Festival at the Salt Lake City-County Building, 451 S. State, Friday through Sunday.
Located on the side of a narrow street near signs that read, “No parking on street,” a converted garage has served as the Cambodian Buddhist temple in Utah. The current Sala Chann houses about 150 people, which means anywhere from 100 to 200 people are forced to gather outside during festivals under an adjacent pavilion of about the same size.
“It made me feel like we don’t do enough to bring together the Cambodian community to worship Buddhism,” said Lameth Hang, Wat Buddhikaram fundraising director and spokesman. “It is better if we have a big room.”
A few hundred yards to the south of the garage stands the shell of a new, two-story Sala Chann, which will house at least double the amount of people.
Funds for the new temple were raised almost exclusively by members of the Buddhist Cambodian community in Utah. So far the group has raised $418,390 toward its goal of $520,000.
The work on the temple is done by volunteers, except for the portions that require a licensed or contracted worker. Tuesday evening found three men in harnesses, working on the Sala Chann roof as long as the sun was out.
Other members of the community have donated their time and money as well, investing in the new building that Wat Buddhikaram, also known as Wat Khmer, officials hope will serve as a community center for anyone who wants to learn, including those interested in Buddhism or meditation.
“We’re open to everybody,” Hang said.
In addition to providing daily services, the Wat Buddhikaram houses three monks, offers Cambodian reading and language classes for children and adults with a basic knowledge of the language, and hosts festivals for events such as the Cambodian New Year.
“It is a place that can provide solitude for religious and spiritual seekers (specifically Buddhist practitioners), a place for local community gathering and a place to provide cultural and social activities for everyone,” according to Wat Buddhikaram’s website.
Members of the Cambodian Buddhist community, including Kimsieng Net, have worked for three weeks to prepare chicken curry, grilled chicken with steamed rice, barbecue chicken and beef, Asian salads and other food for the Living Traditions Festival.
In addition to enjoying Cambodian food, attendees at the festival can also watch a free dance performance at 5 p.m. Saturday by the Khemera Dance Troupe on the south stage.
Upcoming fundraisers for the Utah Cambodian Community Buddhist Temple include the Asian Festival at the South Towne Expo Center on June 14 and one at Liberty Park on July 24.