Yet another top-off for UMass Boston

Jacob Aguiar, Special to the Reporter
May. 8, 2014

A milestone in UMass Boston’s latest building project was celebrated with a traditional topping-off ceremony on the Dorchester campus on April 30. The installation of a decorated I-beam was pushed off until May 2 due to weather conditions, but officials were on hand to admire the work to date at General Academic Building Number One (GAB1) — a $113 million, 181,000-square foot, four-story structure.

Funding for the GAB1 is being managed by the UMass Building Authority, which is also responsible for hiring the architects, contractors and subcontractors. The main contractor is Gilbane Building Co.

Joseph Gallagher, a vice president and manager of business development at Gilbane, spoke about the significance of the event.

“In a topping off, we honor the trade people for their quality construction. We honor the ancient tradition of placing the symbolic tree [thought to mean several things most commonly interpreted as a symbol that the work was completed safely and as a wish of luck to the future inhabitants] on the beam. And we honor our country by placing the American flag on the beam,” Gallagher said. Ironworkers from Local 7 and members of the community were invited to sign the symbolic yet structurally supportive beam. Several students decorated it with their names, graduation years, and well wishes for future students. Senator Linda Dorcena Forry and City Councilor Frank Baker also signed the beam.

After the signings, Phillip Johnston, chairman of the UMass Building Authority, addressed concerns that the growth of the campus would result in a higher price tag for current or future students.

“This [the $113 million] is capital money and it is already appropriated,” he said. “Between the state and the building authority we have about $6 billion to spend on the five campuses. We are hoping we will get a $50 million boost from the Legislature this year as we did last year. If we get that then there won’t be any increase in fees. That is the commitment we made to the governor and the Legislature, and so far so good. Our objective is to have first class quality education and be affordable to as many students as possible in Massachusetts. I am an alumnus myself from UMass Amherst and I would have found it difficult to afford college had it been at a high-cost institution.”

State Senate President Therese Murray, a UMass Boston graduate, was at the topping-off event. When asked about the changes that have taken place since her graduation, she was quick to note that “there is no comparison. These new buildings have made the campus a world class attraction, particularly in science and technology.” The building, which looks out onto Morrissey Boulevard and Dorchester Bay, is but one of several construction projects now underway on the Dorchester campus. The construction of the Integrated Science Complex, the GAB1 building, the Edward M Kennedy Institute, and a rearranging of the campus roadway layout are all parts of UMass Boston’s 25-year plan to become a model of a high-research institution. These buildings are the first of many projects to come – GAB2 and GAB3 as well as dormitory construction.

Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley tweeted out praise for the developers who worked on the Integrated Science Complex (ISC) for meeting the requirements of Boston Residents Jobs Policy (BRJP). The ordinance mandates that developers create a workforce that is at least 50 percent Boston residents, 25 percent minority, and 10 percent women. The Walsh Building Co. is constructing the ISC.

The GAB1 project has workforce requirements identical to the ISC construction under an agreement signed by the UMass Building Authority, but the BRJB numbers have fallen short. To date, 33 percent of Gilbane’s work force on GAB1 are Boston residents, 22 percent are minority and 5 percent are women.

Susan Moir, Director of the Labor Resource Center at UMass Boston, talked about the difficulty involved in meeting the workforce requirements.

“We have a supply problem,” said Moir. “Right now we have nearly full employment of tradeswomen in Boston. In addition there are historic and structural barriers to women who want to work, particularly in early phase construction areas like ironworkers. Gilbane is firmly committed to meeting the standards. We fully expect them to by the end and no one who is working on this now is satisfied that they have not already.”

GAB1 will house the Art and Chemistry departments, a 500-seat lecture hall, a 220- seat lecture hall, a 200-seat theater, and a 150-seat recital hall. The opening date is scheduled for the fall of next year.