The Career & Student Success Center has been rising steadily, piece by piece, for months from its foundations on the Portland Campus. However, one particular piece of the framework reached its destination with more fanfare than the all the rest.
A crowd gathered at the construction site on Wednesday, January 26, to watch a crane hoist the last structural cross-laminated timber panel into the upper reaches of the building. Construction workers paused a few minutes before completing their task to mark the milestone with a traditional topping-off ceremony.
“To be moving this ahead on time and on budget in a pandemic environment is really a remarkable accomplishment,” said Alec Porteous, USM Chief Operating Officer and Chair of the Building Committee.
As master of ceremonies, Porteous gave credit and thanks to the many people who helped move the project forward including University leaders, the workers of PC Construction, the City of Portland, campus neighbors and students. Several of them lined up to sign the panel. The emotion of the moment was evident in some of the shakier signatures.
“I definitely messed up a little bit just because of everything else that was going on, and there were so many thoughts that were going on in my head,” said Student Body President Hussein Maow, a junior with a dual major in Political Science and Finance. “But I think truly just having that [signature] there, it’s something that I will always keep with me.”
Representing the Master Planning Committee, co-chairs Cyrus Hagge and Provost Jeannine Uzzi signed the panel, along with Board of Visitors Chair Luc Nya, as well as Richard and Carolyn McGoldrick, who co-chair the Promise Scholars Fundraising Committee. Many more names were added to the panel a week earlier when it was made available for several hours in the parking lot outside of Masterson Hall for any student to sign.
Student Body Vice President Brianna Demaso is set to graduate with a dual degree in Business Management and Marketing a few weeks before the center’s planned opening in June 2023. Events like these have made her feel connected to the project as an extension of the work she’s done to advocate for her fellow students.
“USM is really involving us in their mission of being student-focused every day,” Demaso said. “Being able to be a part of this Portland housing and community student center project is so valuable to us.”
Spanning three stories and 42,000 square feet, the Career & Student Success Center is designed as a hub of campus activity. Built to LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) standards, the center's innovative design allows for continual efficient use of resources and incorporates green building materials like the cross-laminated timber panel at the center of the topping-off ceremony.
Rising beside the center is the Portland Commons Residence Hall which, at 218,000 square feet, will accommodate 580 beds for students and residential staff. It will be a turning point in USM history as the first residential housing on the Portland Campus. A one-acre quad will stretch out between the buildings to provide green space for outdoor gatherings and relaxation.
PC Construction Project Manager Matthew Skillin spoke to the crowd about his pride at helping to realize that transformational vision. The rewarding feeling of a job well done, however, doesn’t lessen the difficulties of the day-to-day work.
“Raising a structure like this, there’s a lot of dangerous fall hazards and all that. Getting to this milestone without anybody hurt gives us a lot of pride,” Skillin said. “We work hard to make sure everybody is working safely. That’s our first priority.”
When the time came, those same crew members demonstrated their careful work ethic by raising the panel and securing it in place while the crowd below applauded. Joining the panel on its journey were a small pine tree and an American flag. Skillin explained how those decorations became part of the topping-off ceremony as the tradition developed over centuries.
He then turned his attention from the past to the future as he looked forward to putting up exterior walls to keep out the elements and allow for interior work to begin in earnest. The weather wouldn’t be shut out without a fight. Within a few days of the ceremony, a major storm dumped more than a foot of snow on the construction site. Skillin had been monitoring the forecast and wasn’t fazed.
“We build in Maine, so we’re used to it,” Skillin said.