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Topping out for a top job

POSTED: April 23, 2009 6:29 p.m.
Photo by Pat Donahue/

An evergreen tree signifies the topping out of the EFACEC plant.

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Between two flags, an evergreen tree held steady in the breeze Thursday morning at the EFACEC plant under construction at the Effingham Industrial Park.

Perched on a roof, the tree is a symbol in the building industry, and EFACEC officials, along with the contractors working on the massive facility, celebrated the building’s topping out party.

“EFACEC is very pleased,” said Joaquin Simoes, the EFACEC project manager will run the plant’s operations for the first three years. “We are very, very happy with it. All the coordination, the architecture, the site design … the board is very pleased. It is above expectations, and our expectations were quite high.”

The first phase of the 252,000 square foot plant is right on schedule, said Mack Carpenter, senior vice president of BE&K. The Greenville, S.C.,-based firm has a design/build contract for the EFACEC facility. Work began last July and is expected to be finished in  August.

The first milestone date for BE&K is May 1.

“The roof is on overhead. The ductwork is done,” Carpenter said. “We’re right on schedule for the first milestone date.”

The topping out, Carpenter said, signifies that the iron work is complete for the building.

“Whenever you build a building and you finish the iron, it’s a big feature,” he said.

What’s unique about the EFACEC plant is the floor was finished before the iron work was done. The concrete floor is two feet thick throughout the plant, and excavators moved enough dirt to fill a convoy of dump trucks almost 38 miles long.

“Normally, you don’t have the floor poured before you finish the iron,” Carpenter said. “The reason we had to pour the floor first is the floor holds up the steel in this building. It’s a different kind of project.”

There are also concrete trenches to handle the equipment needed to make the 660 metric ton transformers EFACEC will manufacture at its Rincon plant. That equipment is expected to start arriving in about two weeks.

The Portuguese company has 50 workers training at its Porto, Portugal, headquarters. Simoes said the company can’t wait to get them into the building and get started in its first U.S. manufacturing facility.

“We’re very anxious,” he said. “For EFACEC, this is a very important project. Our expectations are very high for the project and for our U.S. customers.”

The building’s size and the strength of the floor is necessary because of the size of the shell transformers EFACEC will be producing in Rincon. Building those transformers isn’t possible in the U.S. right now, Simoes said, the Rincon plant will be bigger than EFACEC’s home facility in Porto.

“We build big, big equipment,” he said, adding the Rincon plant also will produce twice as many transformers as the Porto facility.

“This will be our biggest facility of EFACEC’s in the world,” Simoes said, “much bigger than the one in Porto.”

Once the equipment starts arriving, it may take several months to get it into place.

“We are ready to jump in and start installing equipment,” Simoes said.

The use of the tree as a topping out symbol dates back to the Romans completing a bridge over the Tiber River, said BE&K engineer Brandon Fair.

More than 200 people are working at the facility now, and no time has been lost in more than 147,000 man hours of labor.

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