Putting a lid on it

The hole in the Metrodome roof is rapidly disappearing, but not all of the new panels have just snapped into place.

The numbers on the whiteboard in the cluttered Metrodome project office give the score: 74 work days left, 72 panels to go.

This week crews are starting to install the largest panels of all in the massive effort to re-dome the Dome, a fast-track effort that has had crews making up lost weather time on a Sunday and office workers watching from downtown towers high overhead.

Each of the 32 big panels -- rectangles measuring 40 feet wide and up to 229 feet long -- requires about 15 workers to partially unfold them, winch them up to the roof, spread them out on top of the old roof and clamp them onto cables.

Crews toiling on the roof and rim of the stadium take about a day to secure each panel, if the weather cooperates. Each of the 106 panels weighs 5,000 to 6,000 pounds.

"Sometimes a panel will fall in place and sometimes you have to fight like hell," said senior site manager Doug Radcliffe, who owns a structural steel firm in Cleveland and is contracting with New York-based Birdair Inc. at the Dome.

"It's an unusually fast schedule. We're going to put up 750,000 square feet of fabric in nanoseconds," he said, referring to the amount of membrane needed for the job.

Since March 25, crews of ironworkers, laborers, heavy-equipment operators and supervisors from Birdair have been replacing the Dome's 29-year-old storm-tattered roof with new Teflon-coated fiberglass, one panel at a time.

Despite losing 3 1/2 days of work this month due to rain, snow and wind, Radcliffe said the crews remain on track to finish the job by the target date of Aug. 1.

The workers, who are putting in 10-hour days Monday through Saturday each week, punched the clock an additional Sunday this month to help make up for lost time.

It's a dangerous job. Safety briefings are held every day for workers, who are tethered anytime they work more than 6 feet off the ground. No one has fallen yet.

Because the roof is down, the project is mostly invisible from the ground and watchable only to office workers in downtown skyscrapers.

At Strother Communications Group, a marketing agency on the 41st floor of Campbell Mithun Tower, staffers have been marking progress with photos on their company blog (www.scgpr.com/wordpress/category/metrodome-monday). The pictures show yellow air pillows scattered across the roof to protect against updrafts.

Interest is high, said Jeron Udean, an account manager with Strother. He said that Web traffic to the blog, 41 Stories, is up by about 1,000 views compared with recent months.

"It's not quite like watching the Sistine Chapel being built, but anytime someone visits our office the first thing they want to do is take a look at the Metrodome roof," Udean said.

From inside, the Dome doesn't much resemble the arena where Kirby Puckett worked his magic and Cris Carter reigned.

The arena floor is covered with three protective layers of plywood, and roof cables are tied to concrete jersey barriers on the field to keep the fabric from flapping. The silent speakers are wrapped in plastic, and seven boom trucks reach for the sky visible through several large diamond-shaped openings.

About half the new tan-colored diamond panels over the center of the field are in place, making a sharp contrast with the grubby and rumpled original panels surrounding them.

Radcliffe, who worked several years for Birdair, has traveled around the world on stadium projects. This is his 25th such job, he said, and he's aware of the important place stadiums occupy in a cityscape.

"The Metrodome has been for 28 years part of the makeup of Minneapolis," he said. "PR for the city has the Metrodome in it somewhere. We're helping replace an iconic roof with an upgrade. A new pair of shoes."

Kevin Duchschere • 612-673-4455

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