Final girder 'beamed up' at South Portland High School

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SOUTH PORTLAND — “Topping out” is a tradition dating to Roman history, according to Steve Wilkins, project manager at PC Construction.

It was repeated last week in a ceremony at South Portland High School, when a crew from Davis Erector Group hoisted a 24-foot steel flange beam about 30 feet in the air to Arthur “Butch” Davis and John Curit.

The final beam, autographed by construction workers, city and School Department officials, and students, was then bolted in place as the last one needed to frame an  addition taking shape in the school’s former courtyard.

The ceremony was attended by about 50 people who sloshed through mud to watch. It was a setting Wilkins said was encouraging.

“This could be taken as a sign of early spring,” he said.

PC Construction oversees the project funded largely by a $41.3 million bond approved by city voters in 2010. But company official Joe Picoraro said the ceremony marks a point that is not halfway to completion.

“We are not even quite at the 50-yard line,” he said.

Portions of the project, which has not changed in scope or size, are about a week behind schedule. Picoraro said he expects better summer weather will allow crews to make up time. Next month, renovations to Beal Gymnasium are supposed to begin in earnest; the gym will be closed for at least eight months.

Construction plans call for the annex, a school wing along Mountain View Road, to be closed and razed beginning in December. Classes will be shift to portable buildings and the area now under construction.

The project may be two years away from completion, but Harriman Associates architect Dan Cecil said the topping off on Feb. 15 provided a visual benefit.

“We are finally at a spot where we can imagine what the building will be like,” Cecil said.

A vibrant red school logo will also be visible from nearby Nutter Road, as PC Construction set tiles as a company donation to the project. The logo had been removed from plans in an effort to cut costs.

School Superintendent Suzanne Godin praised staff and students for coping with noise, dust and the added time needed to get to school wings because the courtyard has been closed.

“We have made the most of a huge construction project in our backyard. It never stopped our dedication to learning,” Godin said.

South Portland Mayor Tom Blake said the ceremony made him even more eager for the ribbon-cutting that will open the renovated and expanded school, and he especially wants Principal James Holland to return for those festivities.

Holland will resign effective June 30, and did not address the crowd last week, but Blake praised his leadership during the construction.

“I want him to come back for a tour in a couple of years,” Blake said.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Sidebar Elements


Arthur “Butch” Davis, left, and John Curit of Davis Erector Group guide the final steel girder into place at South Portland High School on Feb. 15. It was hoisted during a topping-out ceremony attended by city and school officials and students. The tree is a traditional symbol of success and good luck.

South Portland city officials, students and construction workers signed the last girder before it was put into place Feb. 15.

PC Construction official Joe Picoraro speaks to a crowd of about 50 workers, students and city and school officials last Friday before the last steel beam needed to frame expansion at South Portland High School is hoisted into place. The traditional topping out ceremony has ancient roots in Roman and Scandinavian history, PC Construction project manager Steve Wilkins said.

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Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.