Come sign a beam to mark a Sherman Center milestone

Scraping the sky: The topping off of the Albert Sherman Center takes place June 15

By Michael Cohen

UMass Medical School Communications

June 14, 2011
topping off 

With a single thumbs-up at approximately 3 p.m. on Wednesday, June 15, construction of the Albert Sherman Center (ASC) will mark a major milestone as the building is “topped off” with a white steel beam decorated with Old Glory and a small evergreen tree. 

Members of the UMass Medical School community are invited to join University leaders and many others involved in the design and construction of the ASC to sign their names on the beam, then watch as it is hoisted and bolted into place at the highest level of the nine-story building. The beam will be available to sign from 2 to 3 p.m. on the campus green. 

“Topping off is one of the key moments that we always look forward to and celebrate during the construction of any building,” said John Baker, associate vice chancellor of facilities management, who is overseeing the ASC construction project. “For a project as large and complex as the Albert Sherman Center, however, this will be an especially important and gratifying day. The entire design and construction team deserves a lot of credit for achieving this milestone.” 

The first piece of steel at the ASC, an upright column, was bolted into place on Dec. 22, 2010. Since then, the iron workers and crane operator from James F. Stearns Company have placed an average of 52 pieces of structural steel each working day. A total of 6,664 major beams and columns, along with approximately 2,500 smaller steel elements, make up the framework of the building. 

The topping off ceremony marks the completion of the highest level of the building. Steel placement at the ASC will continue for another month, as the team builds out the lower section of the building closest to the campus green. 

“We’re reaching this milestone on time, which is a great testimony to the skill and hard work of the steel team,” said Michael DiBacco, project director for Suffolk Construction Company, the construction manager for the ASC. “We’ve faced some really adverse weather conditions on this project, with all the snow in the winter and the rain in the spring. And I’ve been very impressed and pleased with the effort that the Stearns crew has maintained. They’ve done a great job.” 

The precise origin of the topping off ceremony, also known as a topping out ceremony, is a matter of historical debate. Some sources trace it back more than 1,000 years to Scandinavian traditions of placing a tree branch on the top wooden beam of a structure to please the Norse gods who protected the forests. Others look to Native Americans, many of whom worked on the early skyscrapers built in the United States, who placed a tree on the highest point of the building to honor the traditional belief that no man-made structure should ever reach higher than the highest tree. 

Those involved in the ASC construction, however, simply acknowledge the event as a celebration of an important milestone in recognition of all the work done to date and as a portent of good luck for those who will occupy the building. 

“Now our focus will be to get the building weather tight,” DiBacco said. “People will soon start to see the exterior of the building closed in. We hope to be weather tight by the end of the year.” 

Each piece of steel used to build the ASC is precisely fabricated at the Cives Steel Company yard in Augusta, Maine, then numbered and shipped to the site by truck. Approximately 85 percent of the steel in the building contains post-consumer recycled material, such as old cars and appliances that were melted down for the new steel. More than 10 percent of the steel in the ASC is recycled from pre-consumer material, which is scrap from manufacturing processes that never made it into a finished consumer product. 

Following today’s topping off ceremony, there will be a program and reception in the Medical School Faculty Conference Room honoring University of Massachusetts President Jack M. Wilson, PhD, who has led the University since Sept. 2, 2003, and will be concluding his presidency on June 30. Wilson will be succeeded by Robert L. Caret, PhD, the president of Towson University in Maryland, on July 1. 

Related links: 

Learn about the Sherman Center’s café and fitness center 
A preview of coming Sherman Center attachments 
Sherman Center website