Inside Clemson

Future Clemson: Watt Family Innovation Center construction reaches milestone

Turner Construction topping out beamBy Jackie Todd, Office of Media Relations

The Watt Family Innovation Center reached a construction milestone when the final exterior steel beam was installed in a “topping out” ceremony on Feb. 19.

In keeping with tradition, a steel beam that completes the building frame was hoisted hundreds of feet into the air. As the beam made its ascent toward the blue sky, three flags unfurled. The American flag, a fixture in most construction sites, was joined by a banner bearing the Clemson University paw print and a banner from Turner, the construction company that was engaged to erect the four-story, 70,000-square-foot building.

Catching a ride on the steel beam was a small evergreen tree, courtesy of the South Carolina Botanical Garden. The tree will be planted on the grounds of Botanical Gardens at a later date. No one knows for certain the origin of including a tree in a topping out ceremony. But Turner Construction’s project engineer, Allison Ford, shared that the tradition was thought to have come from either Native Americans who believed that nothing should ever be taller than nature, or ancient Scandinavia where home builders used a tree or greenery to celebrate the setting of the final highest wood beam.

Regardless of the tradition, Ford, a former civil engineering student who graduated from Clemson in 2008, was excited about the event and the building.

“It’s just going to be a very innovative space,” she explained. “Architecturally it’s going to stand out and set the stage for projects to come on campus in the future. With it being a research and technology-focused center, it’s going to take Clemson into the next generation in terms of research and technology and innovation.”

Dr. Charles Watt, whose family pledged $5.25 million toward the center, was equally excited. And he gave high praise to thoseTurner Construction topping out-Charles Watt signs beam who made it possible for the construction to reach this milestone.

“To all you workers: you’ve done a phenomenal job,” he said. “You can know that what you’re doing is going to last a long, long time and make a fundamental change to higher education and the world we live in. This is the first building in America, and maybe even the world, to have the capabilities this building has.

As part of the topping out ceremony, Turner Construction Company presented a $5,000 check to Safe Harbor, a nonprofit organization that assists victims of domestic violence. Company officials indicated donations to local charities are considered tradition with every construction project.

Now that the Watt Family Innovation Center’s exterior frame is complete, workers will begin construction on the building’s exterior walls. The project is expected to be complete in spring 2016.