‘Virtual’ Topping Off At Middle/High School Project Set For Late April

Photo: Pouring cement onto the second floor of Area B.

Over the course of the past month, the coronavirus has forced many familiar activities to become virtual events via the internet including working from home, attending town meetings and school.

Now you can add to that list the traditional construction milestone of “topping off” the new Middle and High School project at Belmont High School set for the final week in April “or the first week in May, at the latest,” according to Mike Morrison, project manager for Skanska USA, as he spoke to the Middle and High School Building Committee on Thursday, April 9.

In pre-pandemic times, members of the construction team, the building committee overseeing the development and town officials would come together to celebrate the final steel beam being hoist into place. Everyone would sign their name to the beam while a small pine tree and Old Glory would be attached to the beam, reminiscent of an old fashion, barn-raising.

So keeping with the new realities, the topping off of the high school section and administration wings of the $295 million project will be done remotely, broadcasted to the community via the internet and on local cable.

But for those who will miss the hoopla, Belmont Superintendent John Phelan pointed out there will be a second topping off, this one for the project’s Middle School section in two to three years down the road.

Morrison took the time to revealed an extensive social distancing plan currently underway at the site due to the ongoing pandemic. Belmont continues to allow the building trades to work on the job where Boston and Cambridge have halted all construction activity due to the novel coronavirus.

“The thing that is on the front of everybody’s mind is COVID-19 and Skanska has taken to heart everything that has come through the CDC, the World Health [Organization] but also from [Gov. Charlie Baker’s] health and safety guidelines,” said Morrison.

In pursuit of keeping its subcontractors healthy, the firm has custom-built foot-controlled handwashing stations with hot and cold water that are more than six feet apart “where they can really clean up” when they arrive, before and after breaks and at the end of the day, said Morrison.

“We’re emphasizing and stressing the physical distancing. … which is still a difficult thing to adapt to” for many longtime construction workers, said Morrison. Skanska has filled the site with signs on keeping a safe distance and proper cleaning as well as instituting a 7 a.m. start of the day camaraderie building session that consists of stretching and flexing and announcements on the latest COVID-19 announcements.

Morrison provided a rundown of the construction highlights in the past month including the pouring of the first concrete slab with radiant heating tubing on the second story of “area B” which is the wing pushing out towards Harris Field. Steelwork in “area A” – the administration wing that juts out towards Concord Avenue – will for all intents and purposes be substantially completed” this week.

He also heralded “the huge accomplishment” of installing a massive 32-ton, 100-foot long steel truss that will support the interior bridge in Area C and D in the high school section.

One section of the job that committees have raised concerns is the installation of the infrastructure for the geothermal system. The drilling expenses in the first of three fields spiked recently adding $275,000 to the project cost in additional water management expenses which included added labor, material, and equipment.

“We’ve had some challenges” with drilling pipes “into the unknown of the underground,” said Morrison, who told the meeting that “we feel like we have enough education under our belts now” to handle future issues.

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