Campus celebrates ‘topping off’ ceremony

In a tradition known as a “topping off” ceremony, Local 7 union steel workers installed the last steel support beam on the top of the new addition of Hemenway Hall Wednesday afternoon.

Before the ceremony, school administrators invited campus community members into the construction area to enjoy pizza and refreshments as well as to sign the 1,200 pound steel beam, which was painted white for the occasion. Tradesmen, administrators, faculty, staff and even a group of preschoolers came to add their names, initials or messages to the beam before it was hoisted by crane to the top of the structure along with a Local 7 topping ceremony banner, an American flag and a tree.

The tradition, according to the project’s Chief Operating Officer, Steve Killian, is a custom of Scandinavian origin that signifies a “major milestone” in the completion of the building. The tree on the beam, he added, represents the trees displaced by the building.

According to Associate Vice President of Facilities and Capital Planning Warren Fairbanks, the topping off ceremony is the second of three celebrated milestones that the building will undergo during construction. The first milestone was the groundbreaking ceremony, while the third will be the grand opening celebration.

Fairbanks added that after the placement of the beam, the crane as well as the steel workers will be leaving the project because the instillation of the support steel will have been completed.

Tim Senecal, the project’s lead superintendent, said the topping off ceremony is almost the halfway point of construction.

Despite a “long winter,” Senecal said the project is going well and “everything is on schedule.”

According to Senecal, the spring weather is ideal for the next part of the project – pouring concrete slabs that will become part of the structure. He explained that if the weather is too cold or too warm, the steel would have to be brought to a more conducive temperature before the crew could pour the concrete.

Senecal said that construction around the school will be “gearing up” for what he calls the “summer slammer,” beginning after graduation.  The low student population and better weather over the scholastic break will allow faster progress in completing construction benchmarks.

After all had a chance to sign the beam, at 12:30 p.m., administrators and onlookers moved from the construction area to the Library patio to watch the beam be hoisted into place.

Interim President Robert Martin, who watched and photographed the event, said, “Everyone builds things as a kid, so it is exciting to see something like this happening.”

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