There's no place like an inflated Dome

As installation nears an end, workers plan to inflate the roof this week to check for bugs and finish final tasks.

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Crews worked Monday to install the final panels of the Metrodome's new roof.

Photo: Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune

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Seven months and several million dollars after its collapse was seen worldwide on TV and the Internet, the Metrodome roof is set to re-emerge this week with a new look.

Officials of the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission said Monday that, weather and work schedules permitting, they're planning a "test inflation" of the brand-new fiberglass roof being installed since late March.

If no problems emerge, the roof will stay up as crews finish securing and sealing the fabric. The first public look at the new roof will reveal a flatter profile than the puffy one that collapsed in a cloud of wind-whipped snow and ice in the early morning hours of Dec. 12. It also will appear somewhat tan in color before the new fabric is bleached by the elements.

As of Monday, only one fabric panel remained to be installed, in the old right field corner near the Vikings' players entrance, said Bill Lester, the stadium commission's executive director. "I'm hesitant to say we're ahead of schedule, when you talk about all the detail work," Lester said. "We've been fortunate with the weather. There have been some days of intense heat and high winds, but we've been able to stay on track and on budget through the entire process."

The project's $22.7 million cost is covered by insurance. The only accident involved an ironworker who slipped on the roof and separated a shoulder.

Crews directed by New York-based Birdair Inc. have worked a little more than 15 weeks -- 10 hours a day, six days a week -- to install 106 Teflon-coated fabric panels, each weighing 2.5 to 3 tons.

Workers are nearly done installing new acoustic panels, which hang like sheets from the roof's underside. The panels were needed to modulate sound after officials decided to strip out the acoustic liner from the central part of the roof to aid in snow melting.

In the coming days, crews will apply neoprene seals to the panel clamps, stick on moisture-proof tape and install lightning rods. That work can be done on an inflated roof, Lester said.

The project's target completion date is Aug. 1.

Steve Maki, the Dome's chief engineer, said that inflating the roof will be a slow and steady job, taking perhaps two to three hours, to ensure that cables properly adjust to the rising roof. They'll choose a time with little or no wind, he said.

Once the roof is up and other tasks are complete, project engineers and a Minneapolis inspector will be asked to certify the stadium for occupancy once again.

The field turf will be inspected to see whether it will be playable for the 2011 season. Only a year old, it has been pounded with packed snow, covered with layers of plywood and subjected to the weight of heavy equipment used to fix the roof.

The Vikings' first preseason game at the Dome is set for Aug. 27, leaving plenty of time to replace the turf if necessary, Maki said. The cost would be $600,000 to $800,000.

"Everything we know right now tells us the field is in good shape," he said.

Kevin Duchschere • 612-673-4455

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