By Shawn Chitnis

DENVER (CBS4)– The Denver Art Museum celebrated the “topping-out” of the structure for its new Welcome Center Thursday as construction continues on its massive renovation project of the North Building.

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“This is I think where the whole metal construction is done,” said Christoph Heinrich, the director of the museum. “Four hundred people that we have on the payroll are involved in this somehow. We wanted to make sure they have a piece of the building.”

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A white beam covered in signatures of all colors sat in front of the construction site in the morning before city leaders joined those working on the project to put it in its place.

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“It’s a milestone. Construction is a milestone business,” said Justin Cooper, vice president with Saunders Construction, the general contractor for the project. “It’s something really important to folks, the designers, the client, and the contractors.”

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Both Heinrich and Cooper had their signatures on the final beam. Even those working on the project from outside Denver visited Colorado to be a part of the celebration. Architects behind the design say it is important to show their support for the entire team working on project.

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“It’s also nice to know you have a little piece of something up there when it’s all closed in,” said Stephanie Dwyer, principal architect with Machado Silvetti. “It’s a nice tradition that I think is important to keep up.”

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Even Denver Mayor Michael Hancock acknowledged the historic moment for this project and the chance to touch a piece of the museum for generations to come.

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“When I drive my great grandchildren by here, one day,” he said. “I’ll tell them granddaddy’s signature’s on that beam somewhere in that building.”

The milestone falls on the same week the museum celebrated 125 years in Denver. When the project is expected to be completed, 2021, the North Building will celebrate its golden anniversary. The work happening inside will modernize the building for future museum visitors.

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“It’s one of kind but after 50 years we all age a little and need a little nip and tuck,” said Heinrich.

Each of those names represent the different teams and organizations behind this project but beyond that, the beam is a symbol of the thousands of hours of work and hundreds more that did not sign it working on the renovation.

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“It’s a recognition that I’m giving something that’s going to be here for hopefully the next 100 to 200 years,” said Cooper. “Every time you come back to this, there’s a piece of that building with my name on it and I helped make a little piece of Denver history.”

The beam stands out as a flash of white in the structure of the Welcome Center but will eventually be covered. The people fortunate enough to sign their names say that does not matter, it still means so much to them.

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“You won’t see the signatures. You’ll know they’re up there and I think that’s a good feeling,” said Heinrich. “We wanted to make sure they have a piece of the building where they know ‘Oh that’s mine. I’m there.’”

Shawn Chitnis reports weeknights for CBS4 News at 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. Email him story ideas at smchitnis@cbs.com and connect with him on Twitter or Facebook.

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