Workers, officials mark placement of last steel beam atop Tower at PNC Plaza

They endured bone-chilling cold that froze tools to their gloves, icy winds that turned sheets of corrugated steel into sails, and snow that barreled after them even through elevator shafts.

Through the most brutal of winters, ironworkers, carpenters and other tradesmen erected the 33-story Tower at PNC Plaza on Wood Street one beam at a time, one floor at a time.

And on Tuesday, they paused on a warm, sun-splashed day far different than those they endured only a few short months ago to celebrate a milestone, as the last beam for Downtown’s newest skyscraper was moved into place.

Last steel beam hoisted at PNC skyscraper

The last steel beam for PNC Financial Services Group's 33-story Tower at PNC Plaza was put into place today. (Video by Andrew Rush; 6/24/2014)

With hard hats on and their cell phones recording the moment, scores of construction workers watched from the ground as the beam — trimmed with an American flag, the traditional evergreen tree and a broom to signify a clean sweep without a major accident — was hoisted by crane to its spot at the top of the skyscraper, the new global headquarters for PNC Financial Services Group.

Earlier in the morning, each of them, more than 200 in all, signed the beam to record for posterity that they had worked on the $400 million project, billed as the world’s greenest sky-rise. PNC officials and other dignitaries later followed suit.

For some workers, it was a special moment, particularly after battling snow, wind and teeth-rattling temperatures for months.

“It’s not too often you get to build a skyscraper in Pittsburgh,” said Michael Jackson, 33, an ironworker from Bethel Park. “It’s nice to be part of something like this.”

Mr. Jackson has been part of the “deck gang” that has been laying corrugated steel floors as beams are put into place. During the winter, the wind and the cold made for a tough day on the job.

“You’re dragging 30-foot sheets that weigh a couple hundred pounds, you and your buddy, walking the iron doing that. You get those gusts of wind. No matter how heavy the sheet is, the wind trumps all. It turns everything into a giant sail,” he said.

Philip Charles Fleck, 51, of Portersville, Pa., has done elevator work on skyscrapers in Hawaii and Denver but has a special fondness for the Tower at PNC Plaza.

“It’s a worldwide prestigious job. All eyes are on a job such as this — the greenest building in the world for air flow, for sun, for solar power. You’ve got to be proud to be involved in the elevator system,” he said.

Not that it’s been easy. During the winter, tools got so cold that they would stick to wet gloves, he said, adding “there’s nothing like snow coming down the hatch when you’re trying to work.”

During his remarks, William Demchak, PNC chairman, president and CEO, thanked the “incredible” men and women who worked on the project through two harsh winters and two summers.

The new building, he said, rose to the level of his office across the street at Wood and Fifth Avenue during the winter, giving him a firsthand look at the work taking place.

“I never thought in my life that I would actually see sort of the greatness that built America right in front of my eyes,” he said. “I watched it all winter long. I watched these guys through the polar vortex and frozen steel plates. They come to work when the snow is blowing straight through one side of the building and out the other. It caused me to be unproductive some days as I watched you guys, worrying about you.”

Despite the miserable winter, the building is still on schedule to be finished next summer. Overall, with the placement of the last beam, it is 48 percent complete. About 2,200 PNC employees will move into the office tower at the end of 2015.

By its completion, the project will have created about 2,500 construction jobs. The building itself will host a slew of green features, including a solar chimney that will help to heat and ventilate the space, and a double-skinned facade, the only one of its kind in the United States, that will allow PNC to bring fresh air inside.

With such innovations and its cutting-edge design, Gary Saulson, PNC’s director of corporate real estate, said he expects the building to be at least 50 percent more energy efficient than the typical skyscraper. That will save money and provide employees and customers with a better environment, he said.

PNC angled the tower to optimize the use of sunlight and studied pollution and pollen counts over the last 10 years to determine when to allow fresh air into the building. Mr. Saulson estimated PNC will be able to do so 42 percent of the time each year.

Another amenity will be an indoor park on the 28th floor featuring greenery, comfortable seating, a conference center and an outdoor patio.

“I think it’s fantastic for our employees. I think it’s terrific for Pittsburgh. The change that we’ve seen in Downtown as we’ve sort of expanded along with the city is phenomenal,” Mr. Demchak said.

PNC will bring employees from other buildings in the city into the new headquarters or its surrounding campus. Mr. Saulson doesn’t believe the consolidation will create vacancies elsewhere in the market, noting that he already has talked to tenants interested in moving into space that PNC will be vacating.

For Mike Short, a 25-year-old laborer from Millvale, the building has more personal significance. It marks the first skyscraper he has worked on — and in his hometown to boot.

“It’s something that comes around once in a lifetime,” he said. “It’s nice building the city up, changing the skyline.”

Mark Belko: or 412-263-1262. First Published June 24, 2014 12:00 AM

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