Can splices fix Dome's slices for Bears game?

The University of Minnesota's two-year-old TCF Bank Stadium is a potential -- albeit undersized -- homeless shelter for the Vikings.

Vikings fans have become adept at reading tea leaves and guessing whether quarterback Brett Favre's shoulder or Adrian Peterson's ankle are strong enough for the next game.

Now they're wondering whether the Metrodome (injury: torn roof) is probable, questionable or doubtful for next Monday night's home game against the NFC North's first-place Chicago Bears.

The University of Minnesota's two-year-old TCF Bank Stadium is a potential -- albeit undersized -- homeless shelter for the team. The Vikings' Lester Bagley said that they're talking to the U of M about what it would take to get the Bank in shape for Monday, should the Dome not be ready.

"We're determined to play our next game in front of our fans," Bagley said.

The exiled Vikings spent Monday night in Detroit, the NFL's nearest dome, playing the New York Giants 30 hours after the originally scheduled kickoff in Minneapolis, and losing 21-3.

Back at the Metrodome, four experts from Birdair Inc., makers of the roof, arrived after 5 p.m. Monday and did a brief preliminary inspection from the field of ragged holes left after the snowstorm, said Patrick Milan, spokesman for the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission. After more inspection this morning, they expect to announce whether the torn panels can be repaired or must be replaced. Repairs would involve essentially ironing a new layer into place.

Inspection: 'Good'

A Birdair representative inspected the Dome roof eight months ago, summarizing the overall condition as "good," just below the top rating of "very good," according to an inspection report.

The roof consists of two layers: the outside Teflon membrane surface, 1/32nd of an inch thick, and the inner liner of woven fiberglass, 1/64th of an inch thick.

Metrodome engineer Steve Maki reported the inspection's results to the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission in July, saying the roof should be OK for at least four more years.

The Birdair inspection concluded the outer membrane was in fair to good condition. Old patches were said to be lifting, probably because of sliding snow and ice. Repairs were to be done by a Metrodome roof maintenance worker.

The inspector also noted the inner liner was in "poor" condition. "It is extremely dirty from years of events and has various holes throughout," he wrote. Maki told the board that Birdair recommended watching the holes to make sure they didn't get larger.

The inspection found that fabric strength was comparable to the original 1982 specifications. Maki told the board that Birdair suggested the commission consider planning to replace the fabric, since it would take five years to do so. A new roof would cost $12 million to $15 million.

"We were told that it was good for several more years and that the central problem was discoloration" from years of monster truck rallies, said Roy Terwilliger, chairman of the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission.

Then came the storm predictions last week.

The pre-collapse battle

In preparation, the inside of the dome was heated to nearly 80 degrees by 5 p.m. Friday.

"We wanted to get the 'bowl' warm,'' Maki said Monday. "We took extra steam from the city's energy center and, with a damper button, we shot the warmed air between the two fabrics. With those two steps we've been able to handle 90 percent of all the snowfalls we've had here.''

That night, as the storm surged, the roof held its own. But sometime after 8 a.m. Saturday, Leo Pidde, the dome's technical services manager, emerged into a puffy world of flakes and high winds on top of the roof to gauge whether he needed to call in his crew. The snow was falling too fast, the wind was gaining speed as it hit the roofing, causing snow to blow unevenly. He called his crew to get in immediately.

Still, Pidde and Maki believed they were prepared. They would use fire hoses stretched out on the roof in October to blast water heated from steam, melt the snow, and the water would run down the roof's valleys into gutters. At least, that was the plan.

In the high winds, Pidde and five others, all highly trained in this dangerous snow removal exercise, began working. By 11 a.m. Saturday, the crew couldn't keep up and Maki pitched in as well. "I still thought we had a chance,'' he said.

About 4 p.m., a wind gust knocked Maki "on my butt'' and he faced a decision. The roof was sagging in the center. Hot water from the hoses was not working. "There was a watery, slushy layer building up,'' Maki said. "Life safety took precedence. I made the call.'' By 6 p.m. the men were off the roof.

Inside, a Fox news crew setting up cameras for the game saw water leaking from the roof and left their cameras on all night. They captured the roof ripping, water and ice crashing to the turf.

Terwilliger denied the hot water and steam contributed to the roof's fall, saying it survived such treatments in the past. But this time, low temperatures turned water into sheets of ice, he said.

Take it to the Bank?

If the roof can't be repaired quickly enough and the Vikings want to play next Monday at TCF Bank Stadium, Gophers officials say they need to know by Tuesday. It would take a crew of 20 to 30 people five to six days to clear the snow.

Scott Ellison, University of Minnesota associate athletic director in charge of facilities and event management, inspected it Monday and said there are 5-foot snow drifts on the field, the stands and the concourses.

With room for about 50,000 fans, the Bank is also about 14,000 seats shy of the Metrodome's capacity.

Staff writer Chip Scoggins contributed to this report.

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