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Pages of kangyur -- the translated words of Buddha, sit ready to be rolled up and put inside a statue that will sit on a shrine at the Tibetan Association of Northern California, Monday, Feb. 10, 2014 in Richmond, Calif. (D. Ross Cameron/Bay Area News Group)

RICHMOND -- Volunteers are laboring daily to renovate the Tibetan Association of Northern California's Richmond office ahead of a much-anticipated Bay Area visit by the Dalai Lama later this month.

"We are racing against time," said TANC President Kunjo Tashi. "We want to be ready when the Dalai Lama sanctifies and consecrates our prayer hall."

The revered Tibetan spiritual leader is set to speak at an event titled "How to Achieve Happiness" on Feb. 23 at the Berkeley Community Theater, on Berkeley High School's campus. A Jan. 25 ticket sale at the Richmond center drew about 3,000 people, some sleeping overnight outside to be first in line, Tashi said. The Dalai Lama, 78, considered one of the world's foremost voices for peace and universal ethics, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989. The award recognized the exiled Tibetan leader's commitment to peace and nonviolence over a 40-year campaign to end China's occupation of his country.

Buddhist monks and volunteers sit side by side, preparing the sungshug, specially prepared pages of scripture that will be placed inside a sacred statue
Buddhist monks and volunteers sit side by side, preparing the sungshug, specially prepared pages of scripture that will be placed inside a sacred statue that forms the center of a shrine, in preparation for the Feb. 23 visit of the Dalai Lama at the Tibetan Association of Northern California, Monday, Feb. 10, 2014 in Richmond, Calif. (D. Ross Cameron/Bay Area News Group)

His Feb. 23 talk, which is sold out, should draw a capacity crowd of about 3,000.

But of key importance to TANC leaders is that their community center is in optimum shape by the time His Holiness visits.

In recent weeks, the center has undergone major renovation, with volunteer labor and a team of architects, engineers and contractors. Among the work being done is turning the main level into an enlarged assembly hall, installing energy-efficient lighting and heating systems, disability-accommodating restrooms, and a new commercial elevator.

Various exterior and interior components will feature traditional touches, and the courtyard will be turned into a landscaped garden in an effort to create a "Peace Plaza," according to association member Topden Tsering.


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"A Buddhist stupa will be erected in the middle," Tsering wrote in an email.

The Bay Area community of Tibetans numbers more than 2,000, Tashi said. The renovations represent the latest chapter in a saga dating to 1990, when the TANC was founded but had no property and had to rent various public halls and other facilities for events.

For 20 years, the TANC raised and saved money before finally purchasing the three-story, 10,000-square-foot former office building at 5200 Huntington Ave. for about $1.1 million, Tashi said.

One of the key renovations is to the main prayer hall of the center, which workers will adorn with statues and scriptures, including 313 volumes of Tibetan Buddhist Holy Scriptures, Tashi said, many from Nepal and India.

As the work faces constant time and money constraints, TANC leaders say they can use donations of labor and money at their office.

"What we have here is not exclusive to Tibetans only," Tashi said. "We embrace all members of the community."

Contact Robert Rogers at 510-262-2726 or rrogers@bayareanewsgroup.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/SFBaynewsrogers.

Tsering Dickey of El Cerrito, Calif. applies glue to a carefully rolled page of scripture to be placed inside a sacred sculpture, in preparation for the
Tsering Dickey of El Cerrito, Calif. applies glue to a carefully rolled page of scripture to be placed inside a sacred sculpture, in preparation for the Feb. 23 visit of the Dalai Lama at the Tibetan Association of Northern California, Monday, Feb. 10, 2014 in Richmond, Calif. (D. Ross Cameron/Bay Area News Group)
How to help
To donate time or resources to the effort to renovate the Tibetan Center at 5200 Huntington Ave. in Richmond, call 510-230-8333 or visit www.tanc.org