Rec Center topping off

Construction workers move a final, commemorative beam into place atop the steel structure of the Recreation and Wellness Center on Wednesday. Eight months in, the major 20-month project is on track, with the facility expected to open in time for the start of the fall semester in 2015. (Photo by August Jennewein)

A crowd of construction workers and campus community members watched Wednesday as a towering crane lifted a steel beam skyward on the University of Missouri–St. Louis’ North Campus. Crews then moved the beam, topped with a small evergreen and an American flag, into place on the highest level of the future Recreation and Wellness Center.

This builders’ rite known as “topping off” or “topping out” marked a key moment in the building process. Eight months into the 20-month project that will culminate in the Rec Center’s 2015 opening, the facility’s framework was now complete.

River City Construction’s Warren Moody, project manager for the $36 million center, described several reasons that the practice of topping off – rooted in ancient Scandinavian tradition – is meaningful in a contemporary context.

“It’s a major milestone for us,” Moody said. “It also means we’ve been safe. We’ve had zero accidents to date, and we want to keep it that way. It symbolizes a job well done by our steelworkers.”

Next steps, Moody said, include “closing” the structure before winter and completing the drywall. The project remains on track to open in time for the beginning of the fall semester in 2015.

Chancellor Tom George and UMSL student Dominic Margherio, comptroller for the Student Government Association, recalled the student-driven nature of the Rec Center project, from when it was first floated as an idea nine years ago to the successful 2012 referendum where more than 1,500 students voted on the student-fee-based funding for the facility.

UMSL student Dominic Margherio

Dominic Margherio of the Student Government Association gives remarks at the topping off ceremony. (Photo by August Jennewein)

“It was student-created, and it will be for students,” said Margherio, a senior criminology and criminal justice major. “I get really excited talking about it at orientation.”

The steel beam used in the topping-off ceremony spent the last month on display in the Millennium Student Center, where incoming students and others around campus this summer had the opportunity to sign it, “putting their mark on the building,” Margherio added.

George emphasized that the Rec Center makes UMSL significantly more competitive and attractive as an institution.

“When you talk to prospective students coming to campus, the first thing they say is, ‘Show me the Recreation and Wellness Center,’” George said. “It’s going up tremendously fast. I couldn’t be more pleased about this.”

Incoming graduate student Demetrius Reynolds attended the ceremony and said he’s excited about the visibility the new center brings. He finished up his bachelor’s degree in business administration from UMSL in December, and he’ll still be around campus, working on a master’s degree, when the center opens.

“UMSL is growing right now, and I want to be a part of that,” Reynolds said. “In addition to interaction with peers, (the Rec Center) provides a higher quality of living for students.”

Reynolds added that he’s especially interested in the juice bar, one of many anticipated features of the 99,000-square-foot facility. Other highlights include a climbing wall; an elevated running track; a pool with lanes, open areas, accessibly entry points, spa, zip line and aquatic climbing wall; and a three-court gym.

For more information and a live stream of the construction site, view UMSL’s Check the Rec webpage.

The UMSL Experience

Evie Hemphill

Evie Hemphill