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Hudson Valley's Construction Technology Students Top Off Project

CONTACT: Jeff Foley (518) 629-8085 or (528) 210-4161

FOR RELEASE: Immediate, Monday, December 3, 2001

Image of Edwards Fleming's Steel Construction class at the Hudson Valley Community College professor Edwards Fleming's Steel Construction class recently "topped off" a building project. The class of second-year students put the final touches - an American flag and a miniature Christmas tree - on a 12-foot-high steel structure that they erected in a construction lab in Hudson Valley's Hudson Hall.

The "Topping Out Ceremony" - affixing the flag and tree to the top of a new structure - is performed regularly in the construction industry. Typically done upon erection of the final piece of steel, it's meant to honor the efforts of carpenters and ironworkers.

"These students were involved in every aspect of raising this building," said Professor Fleming, who has been at Hudson Valley since 1972. "They did a bit of everything; they set leveling plates, assembled connection material, and erected the columns, beams and joists according to shop and field drawings. The 'Topping Out Ceremony' represents their successful management of the project."

"This is how it works in the real world," said Greg Smitkin of Saratoga Springs, a Construction Technology major, as are all of his project-mates. "What you get when you work in this lab is something you can't get by just sitting in a classroom. Here, you see what goes into every step of putting up a building."

That hands-on experience includes the formation of crews with particular job duties. Students became ironworker foremen, raising-gang connectors and bolt-up ironworkers, complete with safety glasses and hard hats. They read blue prints and specifications, positioned concrete footings, assembled angle connections, and erected heavy column lengths before bolting beams together and installing the open-web joists that formed the roof framing.

All students enrolled in Hudson Valley's Construction Technology program are required to take the Steel Construction class, which studies steel construction methods, structural steel design, detailing, fabrication and erection. The Construction Technology program is a two-year curriculum that prepares students to work in the construction field upon graduation, or transfer to a four-year school. A majority of the students enrolled in the program aspire to become project managers.

"This program gives me good hands-on experience as well as a theoretical base," said Galen Marchant of Port Ewen (which is located in the Kingston area), who, in addition to attending Hudson Valley, is one of several Construction Technology students who works for the Bruderhof Committee, a Christian organization that, among other things, makes and sells classroom furniture and toys. "You get a well-rounded base so you can oversee a project from start to finish."

Marcus Loewenthal of Hunter, who also works for the Bruderhof Committee, added: "The point of the program is to teach you at least a little bit about everything, so you have an idea of how everything works. The construction field is so specialized now - there are so many sub-contractors involved - that, as a project manager, you need to know how each aspect of the business works in order to effectively manage a project."

One of the Construction Technology program's biggest draws is the experience its instructors bring to the classroom. Professor Fleming, for example, worked in the construction field for six years before becoming an instructor. In fact, prior to coming to Hudson Valley, he was a field engineer for the construction of the Empire State Plaza.

This type of real-world experience enables him to dole out practical information and advice. For example, as the students applied the finishing touches to their steel structure, he stressed the importance of safety.

"The safer your construction site is, the lower your insurance rates will be," he said.

"That's a big help," Loewenthal said. "When a professor has worked in the field, they're able to explain how things work in theory and they can also give practical examples. They can cite situations where they goofed up, and where they succeeded. That helps us prepare."

Dr. Leonard Spiegel was the first Hudson Valley professor to engage his students in building a steel structure. He began working at the college in 1962, and he passed away in 1996. There is now a Leonard Spiegel Memorial Scholarship at the college, which is presented annually to an outstanding Civil Engineering Technology student.

"Dr. Leonard Spiegel deserves the credit for this project," Professor Fleming said. "He developed it, designed it and had the steel fabricated. By having today's students continue the tradition, I'm simply picking up where Dr. Spiegel left off."

"This is a great project," said Joseph Sarubbi, department chairperson of Hudson Valley's Building Technologies department. "It gives you the flavor of having several groups come together. You get the chance to function in a teamwork-type of environment, which, when you're out in the field, is what you'll be doing all the time."

Hudson Valley Community College offers more than 50 degree and certification programs in four academic divisions: Liberal Arts and Sciences; Engineering and Industrial Technologies; Health Sciences; and Business; as well as programs run through the Educational Opportunity Center offering certification programs in workforce and academic preparation. One of 30 community colleges in the State University of New York system, it has an enrollment of more than 9,000 students each year, and is known as a leader in distance learning initiatives and worker retraining.