‘Another step closer’: Washington County celebrates new building with ‘Topping Out’ ceremony

ST. GEORGE — Washington County Commissioner Gil Almquist turned his hard hat upside down as he stood behind a podium just before noon on Monday.

County Commissioner Gil Almquist offers his hat, to ensure that there’s no tar in it, St. George, Utah, July 19, 2021 | Photo by David Dudley, St. George News

“Is there an umpire out there, who wants to come check my hat for tar?” Almquist asked the audience of about 50 people, showing them the inside of his hat. Nobody laughed, and there were no takers. Almquist lamented that nobody caught the baseball reference before speaking to the reason they were there.

They’d gathered at the corner of Tabernacle and 100 East to celebrate the new Washington County Administration Building with a “Topping Out” ceremony.

The ceremony’s origins are mysterious, according to a press release shared with St George News, but the ritual itself is fairly straightforward. When the last steel beam is raised, a small evergreen tree is placed at the highest point on the building. The tree signifies the structure’s safe completion and is often accompanied by an American flag.

Mic in hand, Almquist told the audience that he hoped the ceremony bring good luck for the remainder of the project, and the building’s future purpose.

“I’ve been in government for 30 years,” Almquist told St. George News. “I’d always heard that the county wanted to consolidate employees and services into one building. Today, we’re another step closer to making that a reality.”

L-R: Gil Almquist, Victor Iverson and LaRene Cox at the topping out ceremony in St. George, Utah, July 19, 2021 | Photo by David Dudley, St. George News

The way they did it, Commissioner Victor Iverson said, was through vision and planning.

“We’ve been saving for this for 10, maybe 20 years,” Iverson told St. George News. “We’re proud to do this debt free, and without any bonds.”

Iverson said that, in spite of the COVID-19 shutdowns, Washington County had been blessed with a prosperous economy.

“Of course, we still had to be frugal,” Iverson said. “We froze hiring during the early months of the pandemic. And we asked all department heads to hold off on any big purchases. As it turned out, our revenue didn’t take any major hits.”

While the county didn’t take any major fiscal hits this past year, County Commissioner Dean Cox, who died July 7, would not get to see the building completed. Almquist and Iverson said that Cox was instrumental to bringing this project to fruition. Cox’s wife, LaRene Cox, was there.

“I’m representing my husband,” she said, adding that her husband talked to her often about the building.

A construction worker hooks up the celebratory steel beam, before it’s hoisted to the building’s highest point, St. George, Utah, July 19, 2021 | Photo by David Dudley, St. George News

“He was so proud of the way the County saved to make this happen,” she told St. George News. “The old building was wearing out, and he hoped to see all of the county’s services and offices in one building.”

Watts Construction CEO Chris Boudrero said that he, too, was proud to contribute to the building.

“We’ve always wanted to build one like this,” he told St. George News. “It’s the biggest, and hopefully the most useful, project we’ve done to date.”

Before the steel beam was placed, everybody present was invited to write their name with one of the many colored Sharpie markers on hand. LaRene Cox wrote her name, then stamped the beam with her husband’s stamp. Then, inspired, she drew a red heart next to their names.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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