NORTH ADAMS -- Six years ago, MCLA's Center for Science and Innovation was merely an idea on paper that President Mary K. Grant began championing.
On Thursday, college officials celebrated the completion of the building's steel structure with a "topping off" ceremony -- a tradition where construction partners and community members sign the highest steel beam of a building prior to it being put in place.
"This is such an exciting day. I feel like it's Christmas, New Year's and birthdays all wrapped into one," Grant said, thanking a group of state and local officials, community members, students, faculty and staff that gathered for the celebration. "To get to this point has taken all of you. This has been a true team effort. This project is our project. What is hugely symbolic is that you are all here today. You have all helped a community's dream come true. I thank you for that."
The $30 million science center, which is on track to open in September 2013, will be the most expensive state-funded building project in Berkshire County.
Once the science center is completed, the college will focus its attention on renovations to Bowman Hall, which were included in a $54 million construction bond earmarked from the state Division of Capital Asset Management.
"This is the bones; the fundamental basics," Jeremy Oberc, an architect with Einhorn Yaffee Prescott Architecture and Engineering said. "Remember this moment because this is a rare opportunity."
Work on the Blackinton Street site began last year, following an October groundbreaking ceremony led by Gov. Deval Patrick.
"Last fall we began clearing the site and we put in the foundations, throughout what was a relatively mild winter and spring," Bill Aalerud, a project executive with Columbia Construction, said. "In July we started the steel construction and have already started pouring the concrete slabs. The next step is to put up the exterior envelope, which is the walls, the windows, the roof. We're on schedule to get faculty and students into the space next September."
He said the 65,000-square-foot building would have three floors, each equivalent in size to a football field, along with a greenhouse on its roof.
Aalerud also noted the project is using steel that is about 95 percent recycled material.
State Sen. Benjamin Downing, D-Pittsfield, said the science center's various forms and stages over the years united the Berkshire legislative delegation.
"Even when some people, who write for the Boston Globe, didn't think it was a worthy use of state funds [we were united]. I would challenge those people to come here, on this day, to see how this project has already started to transform this campus and this community," he said. "We have just started to scratch the surface this will have on our regional economy. This shows why investment in public education is all about jobs -- jobs now and jobs in the future."
Mayor Richard J. Alcombright said the collaboration sparked by the science center has strengthened the relationship between the college and the city.
"This is a tremendous project not only for the college but also for the city," he said. "This type of growth only continues to foster those kinds of relationships and we are just so pleased as a city and a region to see this type of growth going on."
To reach Jennifer Huberdeau, email