Girder gala

KBIC celebrates new phase of construction at Ojibwa Casino

Construction workers weld the final exterior structural steel beam in place during a “topping off” ceremony at the Ojibwa Casino’s expansion project in Chocolay Township on Wednesday. The event, which is based on a Scandinavian tradition, marks a pivot in activity on the project, allowing construction crews to work inside. (Journal photo by Lisa Bowers)

MARQUETTE –Construction is ahead of schedule for the expansion of the Ojibwa Casino in Chocolay Township.

Officials hope to be handed the keys to the new facility, which will offer twice the gaming floor space of the current casino as well as a 1,200-seat amphitheater and convention space and two new restaurants.

Construction workers from Gundlach Champion and its subcontractors and Keweenaw Bay Indian Community officials participated in a traditional “topping off” ceremony on Wednesday, putting the final main exterior structural beam in place.

The celebration, which can be traced back to an ancient Scandinavian religious rite of placing a tree atop a new building to appease the tree-dwelling spirits displaced in construction, marks a new phase in the project that will allow workers to begin working inside the structure.

Jim Orr, director of marketing for the Ojibwa Casinos in Marquette and Baraga, said the day is pivotal, especially given the brutal Upper Peninsula weather.

“Now that we’ve put that last beam up, we can start to put the walls up and start working inside,” Orr said. “And everybody knows the winter we have been having so far, that’s a critical step for us. (And) this topping off ceremony is a nice part of the journey.”

Gundlach Champion President Jim Ebli said 70 percent of the concrete slabs for the project have been poured, and crews have begun fireproofing rooms on the eastern end of the structure.

“We have seven busy months coming up. We presently have 35 workers on site. We will probably peak out at 120,” Ebli said. “We have worked 32,000 man-hours to date without any (safety) incidents, so that’s a great safety record here so far and we are proud of that.”

Orr design work has begun on the 75,000 gallon tank that will provide water to the facility.

The Chocolay Township Board approved a measure in December to build the water tower using KBIC 2 percent funds.