UNIVERSITY PARK — Former President George W. Bush watched as a crane lifted a 20-foot steel beam — the last piece of the frame for his presidential center — and placed it on the highest point of the building.
He grinned and applauded, along with more than 500 supporters and construction workers, who attended a traditional topping-out ceremony at the center Monday morning.
"It's awe-inspiring. It exceeds expectations," Bush said, adding that he toured the construction site for the first time Sunday. "It is going to be a fabulous addition to the SMU campus and to Dallas.
"I am incredibly excited about the facility itself."
It was less than a year ago that Bush, family and friends gathered for the ground-breaking at this site on the eastern edge of the Southern Methodist University campus in University Park. The nearly $250 million presidential center, which will include a museum, presidential archives and a public policy institute, is scheduled to open in 2013.
But on Monday, the concrete structure of the center covered the area that was a field of grass and dirt just last November.
Bush, his wife, Laura, friends and those who have been working on the center "during the hottest summer on record" watched the crane place the beam bearing the U.S. and Texas flags on the top of what will be Freedom Hall, a space topped with a lantern-shaped roof that will glow at night. Nearby, a potted fir tree rested on other steel beams, signifying both the topping-out milestone and the fact that no deaths have occurred during construction.
As workers labored to fit the beam into the proper place, Mark Langdale, president of the George W. Bush Foundation, noted that it was "a tight fit."
But he quickly declared that "the shape of the building is complete."
Bush's library will be the nation's 13th presidential library administered by the National Archives and the third in Texas. The other two in Texas are George H.W. Bush's at Texas A&M University in College Station and Lyndon B. Johnson's at the University of Texas at Austin.
"This is where we will pour our hearts and souls, to make sure it's a center of excellence," Bush said.
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