By: Ashley Albaugh
Head east down Cherry Street in Des Moines and, directly behind the Polk County Courthouse, look to your left. You’ll see crews hard at work reconstructing six floors of the Polk County Criminal Courts building. Now look up. At the top south side of the newly built skeleton is a solitary white beam amongst the many other steel beams. This roof beam marks a milestone in the construction process – the building has reached its maximum height and Polk County Criminal Courts has officially been topped out.
Above: The new Polk County Criminal Courts Building sits directly west of the Polk County Courthouse.
On Wednesday, October 11, 2017, while the final roof beam was hoisted to its permanent position, a few of us were there to commemorate the moment. We stood back, “oo’d” and “ah’d” and snapped photos of the occasion while all around us many others remained focused on their tasks. Masonry block installation, cold formed steel framing, door frame installation, mechanical and electrical rough in, forming and pouring the lid to the below grade tunnel, backfill and concrete slab-on-grade – all around us the skilled crews continued their work.
Topping out is a time honored tradition in construction. This particular beam, which will eventually be sprayed with fireproofing and hidden behind drywall and paint, was signed by those who’ve already put many hours into the project – evidence of their existence in this time and place and their contributions to the project.
Above: The ironworkers add the last few signatures before the beam is hoisted and set.
The beam also showcases other traditions associated with topping out a building. On the western side of the beam flies a United States flag – fitting since it’s a government building – and a small tree sits at the east corner.
The tree is an old builder’s tradition, though the origins and meaning behind it are varied. Some say it began in Scandinavia, while others claim the tradition dates back to ancient Rome. For some the tree represents that the structure went up with no loss of life, others see it as a good luck charm for future occupants and still others believe it’s a way to appease the tree-dwelling spirits who were displaced during construction. We do know the tradition migrated to the Americas from England and Europe and that we adorn the topmost beam as a nod to builders of the past in addition to a physical representation of another construction phase complete.
With the frame in place, the ironworkers will begin installation of the three stair towers’ steel structures along with detail work to prepare the floors for upcoming concrete pours.
Above: Polk County Criminal Courts is topped out!
This unique project, which started in August 2016, began with the demolition and removal of the top five floors of the eight-story building and selective interior and exterior demolition of the basement, first and second floors. Crews are now rebuilding six floors, which will house courtrooms, offices, holding cells and jury chambers - through and around the existing structure.
Next time you’re downtown look for the white beam while it's still visible and revel in the mark this crew is making on our downtown streets.
Check out more photos from the topping out below!
Above: A few "monitor" the progress from across the street.
Above: The view before the final beam found its place.
Above: Lift off!
Above: It takes a team to build a building. We're proud to be part of this one!
Above: Leaving their mark.