Topping out a monument

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Vaughn Construction crew members lower a 90,000-pound block of cement Thursday for the rooftop observatory. ,em> Riley Stephens

Vaughn Construction crew members lower a 90,000-pound block of cement Thursday for the rooftop observatory. ,em> Riley Stephens

Scobee and Challenger to be finished in 2014.

By Riley Stephens

A topping out celebration for Scobee Planetarium and Challenger Learning Center will be at 9:30 a.m. Thursday at the construction site.

“The topping out ceremony started in Europe and signified the first men to reach the pinnacle of a building.

“Now, we use it to mark a significant milestone in a building’s construction,” said Kirk Kistner, vice president of marketing and business development for Bartlett Cocke General Contractors.

Brandon Gaeke, senior project manager for Turner Construction, said some contractors celebrate the milestone by putting an undecorated Christmas tree at the top of a building, while others gather their crew to sign their names just before the last steel beam is raised.

Vaughn Construction will provide an interior piece of Scobee for signatures of attendees. The piece will become part of the building.

Gary Verlinden, Alamo Colleges construction representative, said, “We had a meeting to discuss what the piece should be, but we haven’t decided what it is yet.”

Guest speakers include Chancellor Bruce Leslie and Dr. June Scobee-Rodgers, founding director and chair of the Challenger Center for Space Science Education.

She is the widow of Frances “Dick” Scobee, commander of the Space Shuttle Challenger, which exploded 74 seconds after liftoff Jan. 28, 1986. Both graduated from this college.

David Mrizek, vice president of college services, said Scobee Planetarium will reopen to the public in January.

The Challenger Learning Center will not be ready until August 2014 when the Challenger National Organization brings the mission control and space station software required for the center to operate.

Groundbreaking for the project was in May 2012. The Challenger Learning Center was formerly at Brooks Air Force Base until closing in 2004.

In December 2012, Alamo Colleges trustees voted 8-0 to approve a transfer of $5 million to fund the construction of the Challenger Learning Center.

The loan is intended to be repaid through the Challenger Learning Center fundraising campaign by Jan. 31, 2017.

“The total goal for capital investment is to raise $7 million of which $5 million is for construction and $2 million is for scholarships and upgrades,” project coordinator Robin Collett said.

“Of the $5 million for the construction goal, so far $2 million has been raised,” she said.

Challenger Centers train students in confidence and skills to excel in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. There are more than 45 Challenger Centers across the nation and three in Texas.

Family members from the deceased crew members of space shuttle Challenger/STS-51L that exploded in 1986 created the centers to carry the spirits of their loved ones.

The total amount to date the college has spent on the renovation of the Scobee Challenger observatory planetary renovation is $7,400,948, Verlinden said.


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