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Barack Obama wears a white hard hat and yellow safety visit while holding a microphone and speaking at the site of the Obama Presidential Center, as numerous construction workers in hard hats and safety vests stand at attention in the background.

Former President Barack Obama speaks to workers during a visit to the Obama Presidential Center construction site Monday.

Jim Vondruska/For the Sun-Times

Obama visits presidential center as signature tower reaches full height

Former President Barack Obama briefly spoke and shook hands with dozens to celebrate the latest milestone — the museum building hitting its full height of 225 feet.

Former President Barack Obama on Monday visited the sweeping construction site of the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park to thank workers at a topping out ceremony.

The construction of the presidential center and museum is “about 56%" complete, according to workers at the site, and Obama briefly spoke and shook hands with dozens to celebrate the latest milestone: the tower hitting its full height of 225 feet.

“I just want everybody to know that I see you. And hopefully for decades to come, every time people come by here, they’re going to be seeing a little bit of your work,” Obama said. “You’ve got young people, programs here, learning and opportunities that they wouldn’t otherwise have. That’s not just because of me, that’s because of you. That’s a pretty cool legacy to have.”

Former President Barack Obama paces diagonally as he speaks to construction workers — with all of them clad in hard hats and safety vests — at the site of the Obama Presidential Center on a sunny day with blue skies overhead.

Former President Barack Obama (third from right) speaks to workers at the site of the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park on Monday.

Tina Sfondeles/Chicago Sun-Times

The former president signed a support beam, which featured hundreds of messages from workers. It will be used to support the Sky Room, the top floor of the museum building, which will house the library and the archives. According to the Obama Foundation, the room will be “a place to reflect and take in sweeping views of Lake Michigan to the East, the skyscrapers of downtown Chicago to the North, and the South Side of Chicago to the West and South.”

President Barack Obama’s signature is centered on a white steel beam, with numerous workers' signatures on either side, as seen at Obama Presidential Center construction site on June 10, 2024.

Former President Barack Obama’s signature is on a steel beam, shown Monday, that will be installed in the Obama Presidential Center.

Jim Vondruska/For the Sun-Times

“This is really the Obamas’ gift to Chicago and the people of Chicago, which will enable them to come here and discuss current topics, not only politics, but life issues, and so I’m happy to be a part of that,” said Ernest Brown, a leader at Lakeside Alliance, the construction partner building the center. “A life cycle of a project is usually about 80 years. This was built so that it’ll probably [last] 280 years. And it’s a spectacular facility, once you all get to go inside.”

Former Obama adviser and Obama Foundation CEO Valerie Jarrett joined Obama at the site. The ex-president, Obama Foundation board members and top donors planned to attend a private reception afterward at the nearby Griffin Museum of Science and Industry, recently named after Ken Griffin, conservative megadonor and founder and CEO of Citadel. Banners near the museum reflected the recent name change.

The tower of the Obama Presidential Center looms against a blue sky on the active construction site June 10, 2024.

The Obama Presidential Center construction site in Hyde Park on Monday.

Jim Vondruska/For the Sun-Times

Earlier Monday, Obama met with young people from the community to discuss programming they’d like to see at the presidential center and throughout the campus.

The former president, who has said he wanted to be an architect as a kid, has been actively involved in the center’s design. And the decorative granite he chose, from a New Hampshire quarry, was starting to take its shape on the museum building and the adjacent forum and library buildings, which feature a more muted version of the same type of granite.

The sprawling complex on what will be a 19.3-acre campus along Stony Island Avenue, from 59th Street to 62nd Street, has been taking shape in Jackson Park since August 2021. The campus will feature park space and four buildings: an athletic and meeting center; museum tower; Chicago Public Library branch; and forum with an auditorium, recording studio, meeting places and an indoor winter garden. It’s expected to open in 2026.

President Barack Obama poses for a group photo with construction workers, as all smile broadly while wearing safety vests and hard hats, at a visit to the site of the Obama Presidential Center on June 10, 2024.

Former President Barack Obama poses for a group photo with workers at a visit to the Obama Presidential Center construction site in Hyde Park on Monday.

Jim Vondruska/For the Sun-Times

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