Workers from Nabholz Construction Services maneuver the final beam to the frame of Southwest Medical Center’s new medical office building into place Wednesday morning at the conclusion of the topping out ceremony. L&T photo/Robert Pierce
By ROBERT PIERCE
• Leader & Times
In late 2010, Southwest Medical Center hosted a groundbreaking ceremony as construction was starting on the hospital’s new medical office building.
Wednesday, the last beam of steel was placed on the frame as SWMC hosted a “topping out” ceremony to finish a stage of the project.
Christ Burnett, president of Nabholz Construction Services, the contractor on the project, explained the concept of topping out.
“In centuries past, in certain countries in northern Europe, an evergreen was considered a good omen,” he said. “An evergreen provided fuel for fires, building materials, food for reindeer, and in return, reindeer provided food, milk and clothing. The evergreen was part of the celebration of these people.”
Burnett said at the completion of a shelter home or other type of building, people in those times would put an evergreen at the highest point of the structure. This, he said, was to ward off evil spirits and dedicate the building to good spirits.
“In the 19th century, as the people of northern Europe came to America, many of them became construction craftsman, building tall structures in the northeastern United States,” he said. “They brought with them not only their construction skills, but also their customs, in particular the topping out of new buildings with an evergreen tree.”
Burnett said Wednesday’s ceremony continued a centuries-old tradition, but with a new meaning to the custom.
“The evergreen has become a symbol of thanksgiving to God for a safe construction project with no major injuries or deaths,” he said. “The tree is green, the color used to denote safety, and the evergreen shape pointed to Heaven as a symbol of our hands joined in prayer thanking God for the skills of our craftsmen. In addition to this tradition, the significance of the evergreen also symbolizes the commitment of our sustainable effort.”
Friday is Earth Day, and Burnett said Wednesday’s celebration was also important for the observance.
“We are preserving this evergreen tree, and we will ultimately incorporate this tree into the new landscaping that will be a part of this project,” he said.
Hospital CEO Norm Lambert said the project has come a long way in the last five months.
“You’ve moved 45,000 yards of dirt,” he said regarding the construction workers. “You’ve laid hundreds of yards of concrete. Now, we see the steel has gone up, and now, we really see the building is starting to take place.
“In another 16 months or so, we’ll have another ceremony, and it’ll be a grand opening,” Lambert continued. “We’re really happy to have everybody involved in this. This is really something that’s a real positive addition for our medical center, but more so a positive addition for Liberal, Seward County and the whole area that we serve.”