Students and faculty at Margaret Chase Smith School in Sanford brought coffee and snacks to contractors working on an addition to the school building recently, and were rewarded Friday with a ‘topping off’ ceremony, marking the last steel beam being placed before walls are constructed. TAMMY WELLS/Journal Tribune

SANFORD — Slowly and carefully the operator of the big crane hoisted the steel beam high into the sky on its way to its final resting place as children and their teachers looked on.

It was a big day Friday at Margaret Chase Smith Elementary School — a big day because placing the white steel beam emblazoned with children’s and staff autographs, and “topped” with an American flag and a small evergreen tree, was being carefully maneuvered into  place.

It was a symbolic moment, on a couple of levels.

That small white beam was the last piece of steel to be hung for the addition to the Kindergarten to Grade 3 school —–which is part of a wider renovation to several Sanford schools in order to re-align the district’s elementary buildings.

The topping off ceremony, as it was called, also came as gift to the students from the people at PC Construction, the contractors hired to build the addition.

Students and faculty at Margaret Chase Smith School in Sanford wrote their names on a beam that was hoisted into place Friday as they looked on. The school is undergoing an addition that will bring 50,000 square feet of new space, and renovations are planned to the existing portion of the school, once classes are finished for the year. TAMMY WELLS/Journal Tribune

In February, students were marking Kindness Month. Because classes are still going on at the school, the youngsters could see the steelworkers toiling away — in some pretty cold temperatures.

“We wanted to thank you for the kindness you showed us bringing coffee to the people working in the cold,” Project Manager Tim Sommers told the youngsters. He told them workers had snapped photos of the cookies and doughnuts the students had brought as well, and that the photos are hanging in the construction office.

Earlier in the week, the steel beam was painted white, and then the students and staff were invited to write their name on it, choosing from an array of colorful markers.

On Friday, the flag and the tree were attached, and the beam was hoisted into place.

Sommers said the tree stands for good luck, and is a tradition among iron workers.

Online historical resources paint a somewhat similar story on the” topping off” tradition.

According to the Structural Building Components Association, the practice of topping off a building with an evergreen tree on the peak is a Scandinavian or Viking tradition and is commonly used to celebrate the completion of the major structural components of a building.

A similar event in Milford, Massachusetts, marking the construction of an elementary school, noted that it has been said that the ceremony signifies construction has reached the sky without loss of life or injury, and so bodes well for the future inhabitants of the building.

On Friday, the youngsters chanted “raise it, raise it,” as the beam slowly lifted in the air.

They won’t be able to see the beam of course, once the addition is complete, but they will know it is there.

After the school year finishes in June, renovations to the existing portion of the building will commence, and  work will continues on the 50,000 square foot addition that is more than double the size of the current school.

For the school year that begins in September, those entering Kindergarten will attend Carl J. Lamb School for the year, while those in grades one, two and three will attend Willard School for the year.

Potter said the schedule provides for MCS to be complete by June 2020, and that classes are scheduled to begin there in September 2020.

The MCS addition and renovation is part of a $42.9 million state school construction fund award to Sanford.

While the recently-completed $102 million Sanford High School and Regional Technical Center project was 90 percent state- funded, with 10 percent, or about $11 million, contributed by the municipality following a referendum vote, there is no local contribution to the elementary school project.

The old, recently vacated Sanford High School is being renovated to serve as a middle school, and the current junior high school will be renovated for use as an elementary school. Once all of the projects are complete, Willard and Lafayette elementary schools are poised to close.

Mayor Thomas Cote, in a January address, said the school projects are a key part of Sanford’s future.

“There is no better way to attract young families to Sanford than offering excellent schools and state of the art facilities,” said Cote.

— Senior Staff Writer Tammy Wells can be contacted at 780-9016 or [email protected]

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