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The McKay Mosaic

October 24, 2022

The President's Council has read and listened to many of your feelings associated with the McKay mosaic and foyer. We want to make it clear that any decision about the future of that building and the associated features is being made with careful consideration of their history and significance, as well as the opportunity cost of preserving them. Those costs are not simply financial. Much more significant costs include the constraints imposed on design, planning, construction, phasing, land-use, and the quality and function of the campus for future generations of students.

To clarify a common misunderstanding, we want to be very clear that politics are not a consideration in this decision. The following is some history, context, and answers to some frequently asked questions about the mosaic and foyer.

October 2022 Statement from the President’s Council

The university is in the design phase of replacing the McKay buildings. These buildings were built by the Church labor missionaries in the late 1950s, and they have served the campus very well for many years. However, some areas of the McKay General Classroom Building are currently not safe to use, and we need to replace all those buildings over the next few years.

Replacing 40 percent of the academic space on campus while keeping the school running is quite challenging. To do that, we need to build new buildings before we can take down old ones. Part of the construction phasing is to build new buildings to the north of the existing McKay Building, which means the current McKay Foyer will then need to come down.

The McKay mosaic represents one of the key foundational moments of our university, so we want to preserve it. However, it is not feasible to preserve the McKay mosaic as it is. We are looking at how best to honor the mosaic; it has been an iconic fixture of the campus since it was completed in 1958. Plans for the new McKay Complex include a welcome center, where we can tell the story of not only the 1921 flag-raising ceremony, which the mosaic represents but other historically significant moments of the school and Laie as well. The Flag Circle will be moved a little to the north to accommodate new buildings and will remain an iconic part of our campus identity.

We plan to provide updates as the design process progresses. Please note that designs will only become final after approval by the BYU–Hawaii Board of Trustees.

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Frequently Asked Questions

When and how was the mosaic created?

The mosaic is based on a painting by Edward T. Grigware, which was inspired by this 1921 photo (from BYUH archives):

The image is a black-and-white picture of a flag-raising ceremony with a group of students gathered around facing the American flag. Houses-like structures at the back, and also seen is the top rear view of the Laie Temple and the mountain.

Pieces of the mosaic were cut in Italy and assembles by Harold N. Boe, a building missionary. Labor missionaries assembled the mosaic and completed it just minutes before President McKay arrived for the 1958 dedication of the campus.

What does the mosaic depict?


The 1921 flag-raising ceremony with Elder David O. McKay is an inflection point in the history of BYU–Hawaii. In 1955, President McKay spoke at the groundbreaking of the school, and talked about that flag-raising ceremony:

My esteemed fellow workers, brothers, and sisters—this is the beginning of the realization of a vision I saw 34 years ago when one morning President Hugh J. Cannon, President E. Wesley Smith, others, and I witnessed a flag raising ceremony by students of the Church school here in Hawaii in Laie (See Groundbreaking Deidcation of CCH/BYU–Hawaii).

The foundational symbol of BYU–Hawaii can be traced to that flag-raising ceremony. The vision of harmony among many cultures in an educational setting stayed with Elder McKay, and as president of the Church he was the key advocate for creating Church College of Hawaii.

Why can’t the mosaic stay where it is?


The current McKay buildings have significant structural issues. Replacing the buildings rather than renovating them solves several problems: it’s more economical, it brings the buildings out of the flood plain, it allows the design of more effective and functional academic space, it provides for more efficient use of limited buildable land, and it makes it possible to operate campus while replacing nearly half of all the academic space on campus.

What has been done to see what alternatives there are?

We have looked at how we could save the mosaic from many different angles:

  • Consultation with a mosaic art expert acquainted with Laie and the significance of the artwork.
  • Structural analysis of the current McKay Foyer.
  • Bids on moving the mosaic.
  • Designing around the mosaic/McKay foyer.

Doesn’t the church have a lot of money? Why not just pay whatever it takes to build around the mosaic or move it?


We must be wise stewards of the resources the Board of Trustees provides. With all the requirements for safely and effectively planning and constructing campus it isn’t feasible to keep the mosaic as it is. The opportunity costs of keeping the mosaic where it is or moving it elsewhere are too great.

Don’t you care about the history?


The flag-raising ceremony depicted in the mosaic is a foundational moment for the university. The mosaic has been a part of campus since 1958, and we want to honor it the best way we can. We welcome your ideas on ways to honor it and preserve its memory.

We do care about history. In fact, this major construction project provides an important chance to honor our history and tell even more of the story of the university. The reason Elder McKay had such a spiritual experience in 1921 was that Laie had been a gathering place since 1865, when the Church purchased the land. One of the reasons the Church purchased the land here was that Laie was a pu’uhonua. Since 1955, Laie continues to be a gathering place, and President McKay’s prophecies are continuing to unfold. The new buildings will include representations of not only the 1921 flag-raising ceremony, but many other foundational moments both before and after that important time.

When did you announce this?


We have been analyzing the mosaic as part of the McKay complex for more than two years. We started talking about it with community and Church leaders as soon as it became clear that there were significant opportunity costs associated with keeping the mosaic. Here is a brief timeline:

  • October 2020: Structural assessments demonstrate that the McKay building has severe structural deficiencies; evaluation of financial and opportunity costs associated with renovation or replacement of the McKay complex begins.
  • February 2022: Board approves planning money for replacement of the McKay Complex.
  • March 2022: Meeting with President, Isaiah Walker, Kevin Schlag, LCA leadership (Verla Moore, Kela Miller), and Pane Meatoga to present and discuss benefits and opportunity costs of keeping the mosaic, including the likely conclusion that the full preservation of the mosaic would not be part of future plans.
  • April 2022: Preliminary design outcomes, including the benefits and opportunity costs of keeping the mosaic discussed with the Board of Trustees.
  • April 2022: Meeting with Verla Moore, Kevin, and Jim Brown to reiterate significant opportunity costs and that the full preservation of the mosaic was not likely to be part of future plans.
  • Aug 2022: Announcement in Ohana meeting that the mosaic is not part of the ongoing design planning and that significant efforts will be put into telling the story of the flag raising ceremony, and many other important parts of the history of Laie and the university.
  • Oct 2022: Statement released on Web site about the mosaic reiterating that the mosaic is not part of ongoing design planning and that significant efforts will be put into telling the story of the flag raising ceremony, and many other important parts of the history of Laie and the university.

Is this about politics? Do you want to remove the mosaic because of cancel culture/being woke?


No. To clarify some common misunderstandings, we want to be very clear that politics are not a consideration in this decision.

What’s next?


We continue to work on the design of the new McKay complex. We welcome your comments on how best to honor the mosaic, as well as other important moments in the history of the campus, that we can incorporate. Please send your ideas to new.mckay@byuh.edu.

We anticipate that final design will be completed and proposed to the Board of Trustees, whose officers are the First Presidency, by summer of 2023. If approved, we then go in for permitting and hope to start construction before fall 2024. Construction will last three to four years.