Guru Nanak temple in the red The new president of the Guru Nanak Sikh Temple in Surrey says he got the bad news when he met with the outgoing president and treasurer of the Scott Road gurdwara. Bikramjit Singh Sandhar says he was told the temple is at least $450,000 in debt and that some financial records have been accidentally destroyed. "We were shocked, I guess," the new president told The Leader. Sandhar and the rest of the Sikh Youth Slate officially took control of the temple on Friday, six weeks after the Nov. 16 election that saw them oust the group that controlled the second-largest gurdwara in North America (after the Ross Street Temple in Vancouver) for more than a decade. That was when they learned about the debt, Sandhar says. The bulk of it appears to consist of a $200,000 loan and a $150,000 line of credit. The rest are unpaid bills. Sandhar says the outgoing slate told them many receipts were not available because they were destroyed by a water leak in the treasurer's office. Sandhar says the news was a surprise, because during the temple election, the incumbents insisted the temple finances were in order. However, he is confident the temple can make up the deficit. "We will overcome this, no problem," Sandhar said. "There is strength in numbers." Outgoing temple president Balwant Singh Gill was not immediately available for comment. The new administration plans to overhaul and expand the community kitchen that serves free vegetarian food to any willing to respect temple rules that forbid footwear and uncovered heads. Sandhar notes the run-down kitchen in the Surrey temple has failed food safety inspections in the past. "It wasn't kept up to grade." The Fraser Health Authority's online records show the temple kitchen has been repeatedly cited for unsanitary conditions, including problems with pests and unclean counters and has been given a "high" hazard rating five times since April of 2008. Volunteers conducted a thorough clean-up Monday, but a complete rebuild is needed, Sandhar says. "It's still pretty bad. We're taking the whole kitchen down." The building also has leaks in a number of locations, including the treasurer's office. An overflow crowd of supporters showed up for the leadership transition on Friday, spilling into temporary tents erected for the occasion. The new group of directors has set up the temple's first website at Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara the Facebook site that was devoted to the Sikh Youth Slate has been converted to the "Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara Sahib" page. The newly elected board of directors has largely but not completely eliminated the use of chairs and tables in the communal dining area of the temple. Seats and tables will be allowed for people too old or ill to sit on the floor, but otherwise people will dine sitting cross-legged on mats to show humility and keep everyone on the same level. A fight over that issue led to a violent clash at the Guru Nanak temple in 1997 and the departure of many followers who founded a rival temple. It also resulted in the excommunication of then-temple president Gill and five others by religious authorities in India. The new incumbents have said the tables-and-chairs issue has been a distraction from more important concerns such as making the temple more relevant to young Canadian-born or raised Sikhs. Among other things, the youth slate plans to use English in temple services and to create programs to fight drug use and criminal behaviour by young people.