By Dustin Luca
---- — The new Bancroft Elementary School construction project has passed another milestone, as school leaders look to the building becoming weather-tight later this year.
The town held a topping off ceremony for the school last Wednesday, Feb. 13, two days after residents voted to spend an additional $5.7 million on the construction project to keep it on target for a fall 2014 opening.
“This is a celebration of the workers who are building the building,” said Tom Deso, School Building Committee chairman. “Many of you are here today. Many more of you won’t even be here for several months to come.”
The problems with the original Bancroft Elementary School, still in use as the new school is built in front of it, date back many years, Deso indicated.
“My wife and I moved to Andover 29 years ago. 15 years before that, this school was built,” Deso said. “In 1979... (the School Committee) had to close this school for three months after the blizzard of ‘78. The roof was leaking so bad, they had to come in and do emergency repairs. That was sort of the beginning of the problems we’ve had with the school ever since.”
With two votes, in December 2010 and January 2011, the town agreed to spend $44.7 million to replace the school, with more than $16 million of the cost being reimbursed by the state.
Around 1,850 pieces of steel totaling 1.7 million pounds have gone into the project since ground was broken last year, Deso said.
Now, with the final steel in place, crews are working to pour concrete slabs and start putting up the school walls, according to Bill Endicott, project manager with construction firm Skanska.
The building is wrapped in tarp and the area heated to keep it warm enough for workers, Endicott said. The project’s next milestone, set to be hit in the late summer, will be when the building is “weather tight.”
“When the facade is complete, the windows are complete, the roof is on — the building is weather tight, which is when we’re able to really, in earnest, begin the finishes inside the building — your paint, your drywall, your finished flooring, mill work,” Endicott said.
The money approved at least week’s Special Town Meeting will help pay for almost all of that finishing work, according to Endicott.
The topping-off ceremony, celebrated these days on the raising of the project’s last piece of steel, is a standard in the construction industry. It originates from a Scandinavian tradition originally held “as a signal to the gods, if you will,” Endicott said.
Wood structures were the norm back then. today’s topping off ceremonies honor the symbolism of the celebration by raising the final piece of steel with a small tree native to the area — in Bancroft’s case, an evergreen tree, according to Endicott.
The final beam, painted white, was signed by students, town officials and school leaders. The signatures will be visible in the school’s gymnasium “for the life of the building,” Endicott said.
“That will remain in place as a memorial to this event,” he said, “long after the building is completed and they’re using it.”