Baylor 'Tops Out' Brooks Village

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    The traditional evergreen tree sits atop a seven-foot steel beam draped with U.S. and Texas flags on one of Brooks's tallest towers.
Jan. 25, 2007

by Lori Fogleman, director of media relations, (254) 710-6275

Although cold, wet weather forced the ceremony indoors, Baylor University celebrated reaching the midpoint of construction on Brooks Village, its newest residential community, with a traditional "Topping Out" ceremony on Jan. 19 in Barfield Drawing Room of the Bill Daniel Student Center.

The event brought together the Baylor community to celebrate the placing of the highest piece of steel of the project.

Along with an evergreen tree, the seven-foot steel beam - signed by hundreds of Baylor students, faculty and staff and draped with U.S. and Texas flags - will eventually be hoisted to one of Brooks' tallest towers.

The significance of the installation of the highest beam of a construction project has been the culmination of traditions over hundreds of years, said Espen Brooks, vice president for Whiting-Turner Contracting Co., the firm constructing Brooks Village.

Brooks said the "Topping Out" tradition can be traced to as far back as 2,700 B.C., where builders of the Step Pyramid in Egypt placed live plants on the top of the pyramid in remembrance of those who had lost their lives during construction. In eighth-century Scandinavia, builders would signal the "start of a completion party" by "hoisting an evergreen tree atop the ridgepole," according to an article in Modern Steel Construction from December 2000. Another article, this one from The Ironworker in December 1984, reported that the tradition of "Topping Out" was a "cherished custom of ironworkers" as they completed work on the skeleton of a bridge or building.

"'Topping Out' is a signal that the uppermost steel member is going into place, that the structure has reached its height. As that final beam is hoisted, an evergreen tree or a flag or both are attached to it as it ascends," the article stated.

In addition to celebrating the halfway point of a building's construction, the ceremony also acknowledged an important milestone for Baylor 2012, the university's 10-year vision. Imperative II of the vision focuses on Baylor's aspiration to "create a truly residential campus" by making "more desirable residence halls available so that at least 50 percent of Baylor undergraduates are living on campus by 2012."

Six years ago when Baylor's Board of Regents approved the 10-year vision, about 30 percent of Baylor students lived on campus. In 2005, the university improved on that percentage with the opening of the 600-bed North Village Residential Community, the first residential facility built on campus in nearly 40 years. When Brooks Village opens in fall 2007, more than 4,600 students, or 38 percent of the Baylor student body, will have the opportunity to live on campus.

Baylor President John M. Lilley was among those who took part in the ceremony, recognizing the growth of a "truly residential environment" at Baylor.

"As important as it is to construct buildings, the reason we do so is because we desire to build students who will shape and influence our state, nation and world," Lilley said. "Every construction project we undertake is to help transform our students, providing for them the very best learning environment possible. At Baylor, we understand the importance of place in the development of community and in the shaping of lives. For all that has been accomplished to get us to this place, we are grateful."

At 252,000 square feet, the $42.8 million Brooks Village will accommodate 700 students in two new residential quadrangles:

• Brooks College - a traditional residential college that will offer 384 students across all disciplines and classifications the opportunity to live and learn in a community that is faculty-led, and

• Brooks Flats - a group of residential flats similar to Baylor's North Village layout providing 316 beds for upper-division students.

The architecture of the new Brooks Village incorporates many of the external features of Baylor's historic Brooks Hall, including the landmark Brooks Arch. The new residential community also will feature a great hall, The Robbins Chapel, dining room, library and resource center, group study rooms and classrooms.

The project architect is Hanbury, Evans, Wright, Vlattas and Co., which also designed Baylor's award-winning North Village. The construction firm for Brooks Village is Whiting-Turner.

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