Topping-out ceremony

February 1, 2007
Kathy Miller, 661/654-2456, or
Michele Newel, 661/654-2720,

A milestone for the new mathematics and computer science building at California State University, Bakersfield will be reached Friday (Feb. 2) when a topping-out ceremony signals that the building has reached its pinnacle.

Representatives of S.C. Anderson, the general contractor, and the university will gather at noon for the short ceremony, as ironworkers place a tree on top of what will be the new home of CSUB computer science and math programs.

The 54,651 square-foot building is being funded by Proposition 55 bond money, the statewide bond issue passed by California voters in March 2004. Bakersfield contractor S.C. Anderson Inc. was awarded the nearly $19 million contract.

The new building will have three stories and house some 15 laboratories, seven classrooms, and 70 faculty offices. STUDIOS Architecture of San Francisco designed the building, which is scheduled for completion in winter quarter 2008.

It's also the first new science building at CSUB in more than 30 years. The first science building on campus opened in fall 1972; Science II opened in fall 1975.

Concurrently, campus officials are celebrating a $110,000 gift from the Aera Energy Fund of the Kern Community Foundation to provide for computer equipment to the new building. The fund also will provide $45,000 for upgrading the management information systems laboratory in CSUB's Business Development Center.

"Good math and computer skills are fundamental to the work we do at Aera," said Eugene J. "Gene" Voiland, president and chief executive officer of Aera Energy LLC. "So it's a natural fit for Aera to sponsor a math lab in the School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics and an MIS lab in the School of Business and Public Administration. We are also pleased to play a role in helping CSUB achieve its vision for academic excellence."

"We consider it a great honor to be involved in this effort," said Noel Daniells, president and executive director of the Kern Community Foundation. "We consider this gift good for the community, and we're delighted to help Aera with their gift planning.

"The purpose of the Kern Community Foundation is to enhance the quality of life in Kern County by encouraging philanthropy. We are a public charity founded by the people of Kern County for the people of Kern County. We urge people to set up endowment funds, and the income from those endowments is used to benefit the community. Our clients advise us where they want the money to go. In this case Aera told us about the need at CSUB. We made arrangements to transfer the money to CSUB, and we are thrilled to be a part of that."

The ceremony represents one of the construction industry's oldest customs the "topping out" of a completed project. It dates back many centuries in Europe when trees were used as the principal building material.

According to the International Association of Bridge, Structural, and Ornamental Ironworkers in Washington, D.C., when humans began constructing their shelter with wood, they would formally address the forest before cutting a tree, reminding it of the consideration they had always shown toward the trees and asking the forest to grant use of a tree for construction of their home. When the house was complete, the topmost leafy branch of the tree used would be set atop the roof so that the tree spirit would not be rendered homeless. The gesture was supposed to convince the tree spirit of the sincere appreciation of those building the home.

As time passed, the early conception of tree worship gradually changed. The individual tree spirits merged into a single forest god who could pass freely from tree to tree. Trees were no longer placed atop the home to appease spirits, but rather to enlist the blessings of the forest god. The tree branches on top of the home ensured fertility of the land and the home.

The custom of placing a tree on a completed structure came with immigrants to the United States and became an integral part of American culture in barnraisings and housewarmings.

Today the custom is continued most frequently on completed structures such as bridges and skyscrapers. Ironworkers have carried on the topping out tradition and consider it their own. While others join the celebration of topping out, it is the ironworkers and their skills that make them first to reach the pinnacle of a structure, and it is around this group of workers that topping out revolves.