Lifting the beam: SUNY Broome holds ‘topping off’ ceremony for future Calice Center

Cheryl Kurosky of the BCC Foundation Board signs the last piece of steel erected as part of the Calice Center.

Cheryl Kurosky of the BCC Foundation Board signs the last piece of steel erected as part of the Calice Center.

With a small evergreen and a flag balanced on top, the final steel beam for the Paul & Mary Calice and Mildred Barton Advanced Manufacturing Center slowly rose into place.

Along its curved length, members of the campus community signed their names as part of a “topping off” ceremony that marked a milestone in the $12.8 million project.

“This building was originally christened our Mechanical Building in 1956. This was high-tech for its time, but it obviously became dated by the second decade of the 21st century,” SUNY Broome President Kevin E. Drumm said during the May 8 ceremony.

Rhoda Neal signs the last piece of steel of the Calice Center before the topping off ceremony.

Rhoda Neal signs the last piece of steel of the Calice Center before the topping off ceremony.

As the name implies, Mechanical housed many of the college’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) programs, which have since been relocated due to the construction. By their nature, STEM fields require the classrooms and lab space of the future so they can train students for high-tech careers.

The topping-off ceremony dates back to ancient Scandinavia, where greenery – often trees – was raised along with the highest beam of a new building. While the initial rite centered around wood construction, in modern times the ceremony is often done when the last piece of steel is erected. The steel in this case will be part of the canopy of the Calice Center’s new south entrance, which faces the Natural Science Center.

SUNY Broome President Kevin E. Drumm signs the last piece of steel before the topping off ceremony.

SUNY Broome President Kevin E. Drumm signs the last piece of steel before the topping off ceremony.

In ancient times, the ceremony was intended to appease the spirits of nature, who might be dismayed by the cutting-down of trees that such a project requires. While some trees were indeed cut down to make way for the airy new annex that will join the Mechanical and Business buildings, that is perhaps offset by the geothermal heating and cooling system installed under the Quad, a measure that will reduce the college’s carbon footprint, Dr. Drumm said.

These days, the ceremony is often seen as a good luck charm, or as a way to demonstrate the skills of the workers. In some European countries, a flag is hung on the beam, and stays there until the building owner gives free beer to the workers.

SUNY Broome President Kevin E. Drumm discusses the meaning behind the topping off ceremony.

SUNY Broome President Kevin E. Drumm discusses the meaning behind the topping off ceremony.

“Now, as a community college, we can’t quite do that, but we do like to remind you that we will be training the next generation of brewers in our fermentation lab,” President Drumm said.

The fermentation lab – for brewing and distilling – is indeed a part of the new Advanced Manufacturing Center, as well as food processing labs for yogurt, a clean room, soldering lab, advanced manufacturing lab and more.

“The Calice Center will be high-tech, green and attractive – a centerpiece of our campus, and all of us look forward to its opening,” Dr. Drumm said.

The project is made possible by financial support from SUNY, the State of New York, Empire State Development, NYSERDA, Broome County and the Broome Community College Foundation, and a monumental estate gift made by Mr. Emil Calice.

The last piece of steel is erected as part of the Calice Center's south entrance canopy.

The last piece of steel is erected as part of the Calice Center’s south entrance canopy.

“It was the largest individual private gift ever to any SUNY community college,” Dr. Drumm said of Mr. Calice’s $11 million gift, which also funds many student scholarships.

The Calice Center will open in late summer, in time for the Fall 2018 semester.