About 200 people, including the local state legislative delegation, industry leaders, business people and University of Texas System representatives, joined the University of Texas of the Permian Basin officials in a “topping out” ceremony for UTPB’s College of Engineering building under construction near the CEED Building on the Midland campus of the school Monday.
The topping out ceremony is a tradition celebrating a major structural milestone in the construction of significant buildings. A tree attached to the beam represents one of the construction industry’s oldest traditions brought from Europe to the United States, information from UTPB stated.
Ironworkers have continued the “topping out” event because their skills make them the first to reach the pinnacle of a structure. During the ceremony, a 22-foot by 18-inch rigging beam was flown into place.
Tatum Hubbard, an anchor at CBS 7, served as emcee.
The $55 million three-story engineering facility will house the newly established College of Engineering, approved by the UT System Board of Regents on Aug. 24. Construction began in late April and is projected to conclude in April 2019. The construction cost includes $48 million in tuition revenue bonds provided by the state.
The building will include 105,801 gross square feet and 63,480 assignable square feet that will include space for classrooms, instructional labs, research, administrative offices and student support services. The third floor will be a business incubator and maker space.
It is expected to be ready for occupancy for the fall semester in 2019. The architecture firms is Stantec Architects and JSA Architects and the builder is Adolfson & Peterson Construction.
UTPB President Sandra Woodley said the university is proud to be part of what’s needed in the region and that the building and the students who study there will be significant for the entire world, not just the region.
“It’s important that we look at partnerships and collaborations. You’ll see the faces among the crowd here that it includes our legislative delegation. It includes industry leaders. It includes stakeholders who have gone to bat for this university and what this university can do for this (region). Today, we’re here to celebrate you,” Woodley said.
Currently, Woodley said 300 students are in the pipeline to become engineers and the program will soon have 600 students.
Woodley expressed thanks for the community’s support in terms of the building, scholarships and funding.
“We will be finalizing those partnerships in the coming months. Somewhere on that building is going to be the name. I don’t know who that name is going to be yet, but we’re looking for investments in the future of the engineering building. We’ll be naming the programs. We’ll be naming various aspects inside the building, so we can build an endowment to make this engineering program last for years into the future,” Woodley said.
UTPB Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Dan Heimmermann said the dedication of the engineering building Monday reaffirms the commitment of the entire community to engineering in the Permian Basin.
“With the advent of two new programs this fall in chemical and electrical engineering and now the beam signing here, it really demonstrates the commitment both of the community, but also the UT System to engineering in West Texas,” Heimmermann said.
The search for a dean of the College of Engineering is ongoing. Heimmermann said a number of highly qualified applicants have applied and he is hopeful an appointment can be made by the end of the spring.
Rep. Tom Craddick, R-Midland, joked that he worked on getting the engineering building longer than his texting while driving bill.
“I’m elated to be here and I’m elated to see the building under construction and that we got two more engineering degrees approved by the (Texas Higher Education) Coordinating Board …,” Craddick said.
He said about 10 percent of the students enrolled at UTPB are in engineering and that will just increase in the future. All the areas of engineering that will be taught there are needed in the Permian Basin, Craddick added.
State Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, said the vision for the engineering program started with former UTPB President David Watts and Woodley will continue that vision.
“This is going to be one of the most important engineering institutions anywhere in the country,” Seliger said. “As you look around it, the laboratory is right here. This is probably going to have a greater impact on industry than any similar program anywhere.”
Rep. Brooks Landgraf, R-Odessa, lauded the leadership of UTPB and the UT System. He said because of the commitment the university has made to the engineering program that is the backbone of the regional economy, students who grow up in the Permian Basin will be able to stay here and get a world-class engineering degree in a “fantastic, beautiful” facility then stay here and make a “very good living in the industry that is so important to us.”