Volunteers are busily preparing to welcome the Dalai Lama to Toronto, working to transform a former factory into a grandiose cultural centre and promising culinary delights from Oprah’s chef for the modest Tibetan leader.

“He’s such a simple person,” said Kevin Fitzsimons, a designer — and also a Buddhist — who, despite the Dalai Lama’s austerity, has been “scrambling” to turn the Tibetan Canadian Cultural Centre into an area worthy of a visit from the exiled leader.

“His tastes are very, very simple.”

For many Tibetans in the city, excitement is brewing over the Dalai Lama’s visit to the cultural centre, a 4,600-square-metre building which will eventually become the cultural hub for the community.

“No, it’s nowhere even close (to finished),” laughed Fitzsimons, who said the original plan was to have the old lighting factory 80 per cent complete by the time the spiritual leader arrived.

The project faced a hiccup four months ago, when workers found lead in the walls and had to fix the problem. It’s now expected to be completed by March 2011.

“The sense here is rush,” Fitzsimons said days ahead of the Dalai Lama’s visit. “The sense here is to make everything as perfect as we can.”

The building, when complete, will have a regulation-sized basketball court, a prayer hall, a banquet space and a second floor exclusively for the Dalai Lama’s use.

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