The virtuoso choreography of Vikings stadium construction takes its direction at 6 a.m. daily from an unremarkable beige double-wide parked at the eastern edge of land where the Metrodome once stood in downtown Minneapolis.
“You’ve got 1 o’clock tomorrow. Take it or leave it; then I’m going to move on,” Mortenson project manager Dave Mansell said when he stepped into the trailer one morning this week. He was informing colleagues of their window for a media event Thursday to watch the last of about 4,910 truckloads of Dome rubble roll off the site.
The Dome demolition and construction of the supersized $1 billion Minnesota Multipurpose Stadium are being orchestrated with state-of-the-art computer programs, color-coded markers on white boards and the mind of the impishly gruff Mansell.
“There are only two dates that matter — when you start and when you’re done,” Mansell said. “You got those two dates in your mind.”
In between are the standing-room-only morning meetings in the double-wide trailer where Mansell and site crews review the previous day’s progress and discuss the work ahead. There are countless meetings about finances with corporate overseers, hundreds of miles walked in the pit, and constant review and tweaking of the master puzzle of the construction schedule to keep moving without disruption toward the deadline.
Sequence is critical: You can’t build a deck until you’ve got columns. The arrival, movement and departure of equipment and material on the site is timed and coordinated. Extra movement is wasted time, and wasted time is wasted money.
By the time the stadium opens, about 7,500 workers will have stepped onto the site, and they all answer to Mansell.
He oversaw construction of Target Field and TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis and the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. He’s legendary for denying a request from Twins owner Jim Pohlad for upgrades during construction.
That story, Mansell said, has been exaggerated, but he said he won’t change a plan if it means blowing the final deadline — no matter who wants it.
From ‘coal’ to ‘diamond’
The choreography commences when the design comes from the architect (always late, Mansell said). Then Mansell and his crew start with five categories: The first is “mass ex” — “get rid of the dirt, dig the hole.” The next is pouring the concrete structure, followed by the structural steel, the enclosure and exterior roof, then the final step — the interior finishes and the start-up of heating and electrical systems.
“Those are the five lumps of coal that you’re going to turn into a diamond,” he said, adding that each is broken down into scores of smaller activities that add up to “construction logic.”
“Heidi is the master scheduler of everything in the world,” Mansell said, smiling at Heidi Brown, who works alongside Mansell — as she did at Target Field — to run the computer program that tracks the schedule and progress. Brown can pull up detailed schedules on a large flat-screen computer monitor that show when jobs start, finish, how they overlap and where they’re at.
The labor schedule she runs is synced to a 4-D program overseen by integrated construction manager Eric Keleny. It shows sequential demolition and construction of the new stadium from multiple vantage points and scales.
Mansell will sit down with subcontractors and watch the programs run on screen to make sure it “feels right.”
Mortenson operations director Allen Troshinsky said construction is “an art and a science.”
The beige trailer’s walls are packed with high tech — four large flat-screen computers and low tech — maps, a white board with color-coded markers and hundreds of paper permits held up by push pins tracking the daily hot zones.
Walking the pit
Despite planning, unexpected stuff happens. A portion of the project falls sooner than planned or takes longer. Rebar arrives too early. Two cranes are scheduled to be erected on top of each other. Winter is colder than expected, and propane costs soar.
Mansell shrugged. “Last year it snowed on May 14. … We’ve still got the same two dates. Everything that happens in between, you’ve got to deal with it,” he said.
When a part of the Metrodome fell earlier than expected, work had to stop on that part of the site, but Mansell brought in other equipment and started working on other activities earlier than planned. Each piece of equipment or truss hauled onto the site has to be choreographed to control flow. “We tell everybody when they need to deliver,” Mansell said. “Otherwise it would randomly pile up like there’s no tomorrow.”
If that happened, he’d know. Aides say he wore a pedometer one day while managing Target Field construction. His tally: 26 miles.
Troshinsky later pointed out Mansell briskly walking in the rainy construction pit. “He touches every part of the project every day multiple times,” Troshinsky said.
Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority Michele Kelm-Helgen said working with Mortenson has been easy and collaborative, not adversarial. “If there’s a problem, it’s never about who could have done something or whose fault it is; it’s about solving the problem,” she said, adding. “Our biggest risk and their biggest risk is the schedule. We fall behind, and that’s money to everybody.”
As for his famous showdown with Pohlad, Mansell said, “I don’t make the decisions. I just tell them what they can and can’t do.”
The upgrades Pohlad wanted were done — after Opening Day, Mansell noted.
Ultimately, he said, “What I do doesn’t matter. What matters is the guy putting the pipe in the ground. … I just make sure they can do what they need to do.”