SWMC Building Project Reaches New Heights

KSCB News - May 11, 2011 8:43 am

Southwest Medical Center celebrated its $22 million building project with a ground breaking in November 2010.

A ribbon cutting for the project will take place in 2012.

So what exactly was the “Topping Out” ceremony which took place April 20 for the current Medical Office Building portion of the project?

According to an article from Boston University, a ‘”Topping Out” or “Topping Off” ceremony “occurs when the highest structural element of a high-rise is about to be swung into place.” And “flagpoles, spires and ornaments don’t count.”

The highest structural element in this case—a beam was painted red, white and blue for the occasion.

“Employees, Board of Trustee members, physicians and visitors were encouraged to sign the beam before it was placed,” said Southwest Medical Center Public Relations Director Nancy Kletecka. “Many of our employees showed off their creative side with their contributions to the signing.”

Workers from Nabholz Construction carefully lifted the beam up to its location with a large crane. On top of an adjoining beam, a Nabholz employee was precariously perched—ready and waiting to attach the beam to the structure. Another Nabholz employee rode up on a lift to attach the other side. And with a few quick twists—the beam was in place.

Another part of the ceremony was a small pine tree.

“A small pine tree was anchored to the beam as well as a United States flag,” Kletecka said.

According to those in the “high-steel trade” the tree is a key symbol for the ceremony and not, as some may think, a holiday touch.

The tree, according to the article from Boston University, is a symbol in the “high-steel trade” that the construction project has reached the sky without loss of life or serious injury. And it is meant, the article states, to be somewhat of a good luck symbol for future inhabitants of the building.

The little tree, however, appears to convey different meanings to different people.

Some have said the tree represents “respect for nature’s contribution to building process”, a “job well done” or “new growth”.

Others have attributed the inclusion of a tree in the ceremony to a tradition started by Norweigian ironworkers in 1898.

The article in from Boston University says the ceremony actually dates the tradition around 700 A.D., when Scandinavians topped off construction of new halls with sheathes of grain for Odin’s horse, Slepnir. Odin, the article states, supposedly impressed with this consideration for his horse — and with the raucous good cheer of the crowd — bestowed good luck on the future occupants in this manner.

“Topping-off” was modified by some tree-worshipping pagan tribes, according to Boston University.

“Britons and Germans substituted small trees for sheathes of grain, and German tribes made a particular point of using only evergreens,” the article states. “Some traditions also suggest that the Vikings themselves adopted the pine tree as the appropriate touch for a topping off.”

Those in construction believe the tree symbolizes their pride in the accomplishment as well as their high spirits and sheer delight in celebrating where they have gone with a project.

The ceremony has evolved a bit more today as Americans added their own twist to the ceremony, by hoisting an American flag beside the tree.

The tree for Southwest Medical Center’s ceremony will have a place of honor on the hospital campus.

“It will be planted as part of the landscaping will be done for the project,” Kletecka said.

Many believe the ceremony is about the satisfaction one takes in getting the “hard part done” in a given project. Although more work is left to be done—that last act. The highest beam to be placed—signifies how far a project has been reached.

The ceremony at Southwest Medical Center drew a large crowd who reacted with applause as the last beam was secured in place.

“The project has been moving very quickly,” Kletecka said. “When it is done, I’m sure we will have a facility the hospital and the community can be proud of.”


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