Gates Hillman reaches milestone

Last Monday, the Gates Hillman Complex reached a milestone — the building’s last beam of steel was placed on top of its highest point. This landmark occasion, called the Topping-Off Ceremony, was particularly special. Days before the event, students, faculty, and staff were invited to sign their names on the beam. Steel plates were also sent to Bill and Melinda Gates as well as Henry and Elsie Hillman so their signatures could be included.

Ralph Horgan, associate vice provost of Campus Design and Facility Development, said that the topping off had other implications. The community can notice the shape that the building is beginning to take.

Because of the visible structural steel, sidewalks, insulation, and plumbing, he explained, the pattern from Wean and Newell-Simon Halls to the Purnell Center can now be seen. We can understand how the Gates Hillman Complex will fit into the Carnegie Mellon campus.

Horgan noted that the project is completely on schedule to be completed next summer, as well as on budget, although they are “struggling every day with fuel and commodity prices.”

A significant change in the building’s plans is the Randy Pausch Memorial Footbridge, which will connect the Purnell Center to the new Gates Hillman Complex.

“The bridge, which was always in the building’s plans,” Horgan said, “was renamed in Randy Pausch’s honor, given that it is a symbol of exactly what he did — linking computer science with drama.”

Although many knew that the bridge would be dedicated to Pausch, many did not know about the LED lights that have been introduced into the bridge’s rail design.

Horgan and Bob Reppe, the director of design for Campus Design and Facility Development, explained that there is a plan in the bridge rail design for LED lights, making the bridge “more interesting and more representative of the ideal of Pausch.”

The LED lights, which can be programmed to be a number of colors, will come from Color Kinetics, a company that Ihor Lys, a Carnegie Mellon alumnus, co-founded. With the new rail design in place and the representative feel of the bridge, Horgan said, “There is an idea that there may be a competition to program the LED lights,” something that both he and Reppe are excited about.

The details of the competition, as of now, have yet to be completed but will be released as project construction continues.

In terms of the construction of the building, Horgan mentioned a developing portion of the complex — the Internal Helix.

Because of the building’s position — “being built in a hole 60 feet lower than the Cut” — it would be difficult for those walking from all points of campus to navigate it without the use of elevators and stairs.

Therefore, somewhat similarly to the ramp executions in Doherty Hall, there will be a helical walkway that is the “vertical connection” of the building with ADA-compliant sloping ramps. Horgan and Reppe explained that this will allow students, faculty, and staff to have easy access to the Gates Hillman Complex from all parts of campus.

Horgan says that he, his staff, and all those involved with the Gates Hillman Complex are very excited about it. He feels fortunate that there have not been any major setbacks with its construction.

Horgan mentioned the Gates-Hillman blog ( as a spot for all up-to-date construction information as well as a 24-hour webcam.