Traditional ceremony marks construction milestone at JAX Genomic Medicine

Builders and Laboratory officials celebrated a significant milestone this week in the construction of the new home of The Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine on the campus of the University of Connecticut Health Center in Farmington. With the structural steel framework nearly complete on the 189,000-square-foot building, the Whiting-Turner Contracting Co. on Wednesday hosted a traditional “topping out” ceremony and also provided an on-site barbeque lunch for steelworkers and other members of the construction team. Whiting-Turner, with a regional office in New Haven, Conn., is managing the approximately $190 million project.

Shortly before noon, about 100 hard-hatted workers gathered around a long steel beam that had the words “Jackson Laboratory” emblazoned on it in white letters. The beam was supported at waist height by sawhorses. Mounted on one end of the beam was a large American flag. At the other end was a small evergreen tree that had been delivered to the site from the Laboratory’s main campus in Bar Harbor, Maine.

Using permanent-ink markers, steelworkers and job supervisors signed their names on the beam, joined by scientists, administrators and support staff from JAX Genomic Medicine’s temporary quarters in a nearby UConn Health Center building. Officials from the JAX main campus in Bar Harbor also flew to Connecticut for the event. To cheers and applause from the crowd, a construction crane then hoisted the beam up to its permanent position near the top of the expansive four-story building. With rain threatening, lunch was served in a temporary shelter set up for the occasion.

Topping out is an ancient tradition from Scandinavia, thought to have evolved as a way to placate tree gods displaced by the construction of a new building. It is now frequently used in this country to mark the highest point in the structural framework of a major construction project. 

Construction of the new JAX Genomic Medicine building began in January and is on schedule. The facility will be ready for occupancy in the fall of 2014. 

The Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine, established in 2012, is a nonprofit research center that identifies the precise genomic causes of diseases and spurs the development of individualized plans of treatment and prevention. Scientists at JAX Genomic Medicine are building collaborations among doctors, researchers and the biomedical industry to bring genomic findings into the clinical setting. Better disease management made possible by genomic research has the potential not only to improve the health of individual patients but also to reduce health care spending and ease the public health burden of major diseases.