MINNEAPOLIS – The Minnesota Vikings have a roof over their helmets once again.
Seven months after the Metrodome's Teflon-coated fiberglass ceiling collapsed in a snowstorm, forcing the Vikings to play their final two home games last season elsewhere, the new roof has been raised in plenty of time for the first preseason game.
Stadium officials and construction workers inflated the roof Wednesday morning as a test. No problems popped up, so the roof of the 29-year-old stadium will stay up while the finishing touches are put on a rebuilding project that began in March.
"There doesn't seem to be any issues whatsoever," said Ted Mondale, the chairman of the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, the agency that operates the facility officially known as Mall of America Field.
The new roof sits a little lower than before, to better withstand strong winds and help prevent snow from piling up in drifts. But it still sports the puffy, muffin-top look that frames the east side of the downtown Minneapolis skyline. The 10-acre surface, just one-16th of an inch thick, is held up by several 100-horsepower fans.
MSFC director of facilities and engineering Steve Maki sat in the football press box as the roof was quietly and steadily lifted to full height in about 45 minutes. Workers with poles watched from the upper deck to make sure the inner lining didn't snag on the way up. Five others kept watch on top, casting silhouettes in the morning sun as they walked back and forth.
Most of the construction work should be done by Aug. 1, which will trigger a $500,000 bonus for Amherst, N.Y.-based contractor Birdair Inc., the company that also designed and installed the original roof. The project cost $22.7 million, including $18 million for the roof itself, and it's covered by the MSFC's insurance.
The artificial turf was also damaged when the roof broke open and snow poured in, and that might have to be replaced, too, but Maki said that work, if necessary, would be done by Aug. 18. The surface, installed just last summer, has been covered in plywood during the project. Bids are in, and Maki said a decision on whether new turf is needed will be made by the end of next week.
The Vikings are scheduled to play their first home preseason game on Aug. 27, assuming the NFL lockout is over. Vikings vice president for public affairs and stadium development Lester Bagley said the team is appreciative of the work.
"We're going to get our home-field advantage back," Bagley said.
The roof collapsed after a storm that brought 17 inches of snow in a 24-hour span and high winds that prevented stadium workers from clearing the roof. No one was hurt, but the Vikings were forced to shift home games to Detroit's Ford Field and then to the University of Minnesota, losing both times.
It was the fourth roof collapse at the facility, but the first since 1983.
Enough damage was done that the entire roof needed to be replaced, rather than just the damaged diamond-shaped panels. Under the new roof, some of the dinginess is gone and the inner lining is smaller, allowing more sunlight. New acoustical panels were also hung from the roof to improve the stadium's sound quality.
Mondale credited Maki for his leadership of the project. Workers, who endured 100-degree-plus heat on the roof plus plenty of rain and wind over the last four months, appeared to enjoy themselves. A paper airplane was even spotted flying through one of the vent holes.
The Vikings don't plan to play under their new roof for long, though.
They're in the final year of their lease at the Metrodome, actively seeking a new stadium in Arden Hills, a suburb north of downtown. That effort has been stymied in part by the state's budget deficit and government shutdown, an impasse between Gov. Mark Dayton, a Democrat, and the Republican-majority Legislature.
"We're going to need to raise revenue to do this, and there really hasn't been a lot of synergy on how that would happen at this point," Mondale said. "So we're waiting. But we're working. We're being creative, and we're being solution-focused. I think there's still a pretty good shot that we'll have a good proposal ready for the elected leaders to take a look at — and hopefully in the right timeframe. I know the governor wants to get this done. He wants to get this done this year."
The Vikings have been waiting for a budget deal to be struck first.
"Once that comes together, we're confident that we'll be ready and be in position to have a good discussion about a stadium solution," Bagley said.
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