The Raising Gang Tops It Out

Paul Bass PhotoAs an 18-foot-four-inch long beam inscribed with the hopes of schoolchildren was hoisted 52 feet into the air, ironworker Vincent Romano watched from below. The beam contained some of his hopes, too.

“It makes me proud,” Romano said. “That’s why I became an ironworker in the first place. I like going by buildings and saying, ‘I helped build that.’”

Romano (pictured at left) is one of five members of the “raising gang,” one of three “gangs” totaling 16 ironworkers from a West Haven company called ProIron currently erecting the skeleton of the newly rebuilt $45 million East Rock Global Magnet School off Nash Street. The enterprise represents a series of hopes: not just for a modern, inviting building to replace the school’s forbidding former bunker; but also for a high-quality neighborhood school to complement East Rock’s pre-K-8 school of choice, Hooker. East Rock parents of preschoolers are already organizing to make that happen. (Read about that here.)

East Rock’s 547 students are expected to move into their new home next January.

On Thursday morning the students returned from their current “swing space” to watch the ironworkers “top out” the frame.

They signed their names on the beam along with wishes for their new school and their slogan: “East Rock Rocks!”

The raising gang has already been at work for a month getting the frame up. The topping-out ceremony marks the placing of a beam at the highest point.

“Looking at what you’re going to make?” a colleague asked ProIron forerman Don Charbonneau as he examined a Newman Architects drawing. His crew has already put up the frame at Metropolitan Business Academy and Hill Central as part of New Haven’s citywide $1. 6 billion school rebuilding program.

“I’m looking at what’s missing,” Charbonneau responded. Then he explained how his three gangs do that job.

The raising gang has two “connectors,” Dan Ronan and Dave Gagnon. They were standing 52 feet up atop the frame Thursday morning awaiting the arrival of the beam so they could connect it to the rest of the frame. (Gagnon is pictured waving to the kids below.)

“Then you’ve got Vinnie [Romano] and Jimmy Hill,” the “hooking gang,” Charbonneau said. “They hook on. They stay on the ground and hook the beams to the crane in order to lift it.”

Chris Hauge (at right in photo) serves as the gang’s foreman, continued Charbonneau (at left). “He picks which pieces they pick up. He dictates what order the building gets put together in.”

“You just called me a dictator,” interjected Hauge, who was listening.

“He’s the competent person who puts the building together,” Charbonneau said.

As the raising gang gets its work under way, the “bolting and plumbing gang” secures the beams. Then the “decking gang” puts in the floors. Sixteen ironworkers in all work in the three gangs on this job. Four live in New Haven, Charbonneau said. Five are black or Latino; one is female.

The students started cheering as Vinnie Romano gave the order to lift the beam. Besides the students’ and ironworkers’ tags, the beam had an American flag on top, an ironworkers union local 424 flag on bottom, and a little pine tree.

Why the pine tree?

It’s an old custom, Romano explained. “It means no loss of life.”

The students watched as the raising gang lifted the white beam on a crane to Romano’s and Gagnon’s waiting arms. The pair put the 16-inch beam into place, Mission accomplished.

“Back to work,” Romano said, with an extra lift in his step.

And back to school.

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