BANGOR, Maine — A little more than eight months after ground was broken on the project, leaders from the city of Bangor, Penobscot County and local businesses gathered to witness the high point of the ongoing construction of Bangor’s new arena and events center.

Cianbro Corp. Chairman Peter Vigue told the 150 attendees at Wednesday morning’s “topping-off” ceremony — during which a 2,000-pound steel I-beam was raised to the highest point of the new auditorium’s superstructure — that the arena project was “ahead of schedule and on budget.”

The 30-foot-long, 18-inch-wide beam was painted white and emblazoned with the logos of the city of Bangor and Cianbro, the Pittsfield-based company building the arena and center. Before being raised by a crane and attached, it was lowered to the ground to allow past and present Bangor city councilors, city staff members, local business leaders such as Vigue and others involved in the project to write messages and sign their names.

About 75 construction workers on site took a half-hour break from their day to watch the ceremonies.

“People have heard me say for a number of years that it’s all about people, and the people on the ground here are the ones doing what I call the heavy lifting,” Vigue said. “They’re the people who get up before daylight and go home when it’s dark and sometimes they go unrecognized, so I thought it was important they were at this ceremony.”

Among them was senior project manager Jon DiCentes, who, like many Cianbro workers involved with the $65 million project, is a local.

“There’s a lot of pride invested in this job, so I think it was important for them to take a half hour and come over and recognize their hard work,” DiCentes said.

DiCentes provided an update on the project’s progress and timeline.

“We’re two or three weeks away from having the rest of the steel on the entire convention center done and the cranes will be gone in three weeks,” DiCentes said. “Our big focus now is the envelope of the building with the roof, walls, and all the exterior, veneers and glazing, just getting this thing closed in.”

The attention is also turning more toward the adjoining events center’s construction as well.

“We’re doing very well with all our slab placements right now and that’ll be a continual effort for the next month or so,” DiCentes said. “Once the convention center building is standing, we’ll be in there prepping for slabs and getting that roofed so we can put a lot more tradesmen to work in there.”

DiCentes said more and more workers will be required on site in the coming weeks as other trade work such as plumbing and electrical will be required.

Current and former city councilors were all smiles as they signed their names to the beam, which also bore a small evergreen tree on top to symbolize the “topping off” aspect of the current phase of the project. Construction is on schedule to be finished in time for the arena — which will feature 5,800 fixed seats with a total capacity of about 8,050, seated and standing — to open by Labor Day 2013.

“I used to go over to the Bangor Auditorium as a kid and see basketball games like the Downeast Classic and I loved that time of my life,” said former City Councilor and Mayor Gerry Palmer. “I want my granddaughter, whose name is on that beam, to have the same opportunities.”

“I give credit to the chair of the council and fellow councilors for inviting past councilors, recognizing this was a collaborative effort over a decade of time,” former Councilor David Nealley said.

Palmer served as a testament to that decade-long effort as he and current Councilor and Mayor Cary Weston made reference to Palmer’s 1997 “palm cards.”

“They’re those things you leave on people’s car windshields and in their doors when you’re campaigning,” Palmer said. “Mine said we need[ed] to improve the Bass Park complex back in 1997.”

While lauding the efforts of city, county and state officials, members of the Friends of the Arena group leading the effort to fund a new arena, and others backing the effort, Vigue also commended his employees’ exemplary safety record.

“We have had zero lost work days and zero accidents or injuries, and that’s unheard of in the industry, especially with a project of this scope in this day and age,” Vigue said.