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Science Center topping out brings a surprise. View video.

The campus community celebrated progress on the new Science Center at New London Hall Nov. 16 with a traditional "topping out" ceremony -- and a surprise.

President Lee Higdon went up in a lift and personally placed a four-foot evergreen at the highest point on the steel structure.

View the video.
Students, faculty and staff, many holding umbrellas to ward off the rain, cheered as he turned and waved after setting the tree in its stand.

The evergreen had been cut by botany students. The new $25 million Science Center at New London Hall will be home to their department, along with biology and computer science, when it opens in the fall of 2012.

Students are particularly excited about the new building.

"I'm looking forward to the big space and to having the sciences all together," said Evan Gray '13, a computer science major. Motushi Ahmed '15 said the building looks amazing and Katherine Theiss '15 agreed. "It shows how great we are as a school, to be constantly making improvements," she said.

The topping-out tradition goes back a thousand years and has its roots in Scandinavia. Some cultural historians believe it began as a way of honoring the materials that "gave their life" to create a new building.

The ceremony was followed by a presentation on the construction of the Science Center -- especially the building's sustainable features. They include a geothermal system that will use the earth's energy to heat and cool the building.

Students, faculty and staff also signed one of the steel beams for the building after the ceremony. The beam will help support the area that connects New London Hall to the new greenhouse.

The building and greenhouse are being fully renovated from top to bottom with leadership Campaign gifts from foundations, alumni and parents. An addition on the east side of the building will increase space for research and teaching by 28 percent - to 21,100 square feet.

Check construction progress in real time -- view the Science Center webcam.

November 18, 2011