When the Minnesota Vikings move into their new stadium in 2016, the building will have enough elevators, escalators and ramps to give fans a smooth and easy trip to their seats.

That is not the situation right now.

The $1.1 billion building that is almost double the size of the old Metrodome is a gantlet of heavy equipment, tools and construction materials waiting to be lifted into place. Public tours aren’t available, but journalists have had regular access, allowing us to experience the progress.

The guided tours start with the signing of liability waivers — just in case. Before setting foot inside the perimeter fence, everyone must don a hard hat, neon vest, safety glasses, boots and heavy-duty gloves. No sleeveless shirts allowed.

Ten minutes into the tours, I’ve surreptitiously removed my gloves so I can take notes. Photographers wear their hard hats backward so they can shoot. I drip sweat inside the gear — even on cold days, more so on hot ones.

Tours for journalists are led by Dave Mansell, Mortenson’s colorful general superintendent on the project, whose knowledge of the structure seems to include not only the timeline for the placement of every screw, but also its structural purpose. He also apparently knows the name and temperament of every worker on site, sometimes as many as 1,200.

The dirt pit that will become the NFL field still crawls with cranes and trucks, but their numbers have noticeably shrunk while the number of workers in the seats and on the roof has increased.

As the building gets closer to completion, the tours get less rigorous. It’s been months since we used a temporary steel staircase to climb up and down between levels. We now use permanent, rock-hard stairwells with handrails. It gets more comfortable every trip.

Reporters have yet to scale the highest peaks and we’re not allowed to join the crane operators in their cabs hundreds of feet above ground. We can see workers on the ceiling above us and, for once, I am grateful at being denied that access. I can wait to see the nosebleed seats.

Just as from the outside, the progress inside is astounding. One week, they’re smoothing wet concrete on inclines, the next week there’s an actual ramp. Massive airflow pipes lie on their sides or in boxes, waiting to be placed.

Still it was surprising to see 80-year-old Jerry Conlin of Woodbury picking his way among the rocks to get in and see the first seats go in Monday. He was invited by the Vikings to try out the first seats in the building.

His wife, Diane Conlin, was concerned, too, because Conlin hasn’t been to a game in a while. Before the old Met Stadium in Bloomington closed, Conlin zipped up his snowsuit and rarely missed a game. But two knee replacements and three more decades have made the trip tougher. He took breaks until ultimately settling into a new purple seat.

“Everybody helped him; he didn’t think he could go up the stairs,” Diane said, adding the verdict on the building was that it’s spacious, unbelievable and bright.

Jerry Conlin suffered no aches the next day, his wife said. As to whether he will see a game when the building opens in 2016, Diane Conlin said, “We’ll have to see.”

 

@rochelleolson rochelle.olson@startribune.com