The Metrodome, minus a roof since December’s blizzard took the air out of the much-maligned but functional stadium, is whole once again.
Its new roof inflated in about 45 minutes Wednesday morning, much faster than officials expected.
"We had a good day today. The inflation went without a hitch," said Ted Mondale, chair of the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission. "There didn’t seem to be any issues whatsoever."
Mondale added: “We’ll be ready for the Vikings — if they’re ready,” a reference to the NFL’s unresolved labor dispute between owners and players.
Lester Bagley, Vikings’ vice president in charge of stadium development, watched as the roof slowly rose. “We’re very pleased that it’s up and ready. We’re going to get our homefield advantage back,” he said.
The roof cost $18 million, and the entire project about $22.7 million. The cost was covered by insurance.
The Teflon-coated fiberglass roof is a little tanner and less puffy than the predecessor, whose failure during a December blizzard turned the Minnesota Vikings into vagabonds as the team limped to the finish line last season.
On Wednesday, workers turned on a dozen 100-horsepower fans at 7:13 a.m. to begin the process of raising the roof.
"OK, we’re going," radioed Steve Maki, the Dome’s chief engineer.
Workers were stationed at the stadium gates to depressurize the arena, if necessary, and around the perimeter of the roof in case the fabric snagged as it stretched.
Four workers in harness rode the roof as it ascended, keeping close watch for any complications.
The best indication of success was that, shortly after the roof had been fully inflated, workers on the arena floor began picking up the plywood sheets that had covered the field during construction.
Officials now must decide whether the year-old turf, which has been pounded by the elements, is playable or whether it must be replaced.
People watched from downtown streets below and office towers overhead as the new roof slowly took shape. They saw the roof speckled with colorful air pillows, kept in place to stabilize the fabric in the event of wind. Dark cable stays outlined the roof’s new profile.
Inside, the arena was brighter than before. That’s because the central portion of the roof has only one fiberglass layer, not two as before, to better aid snow melt from the roof. With the interior layer gone, dozens of silver-colored acoustic panels have been hung like flags from the ceiling to improve noise control.
Even with the roof up, numerous small tasks remain, including various seals and installation of lightning rods. Work must be completed by Aug. 1.
A public open house is planned for Aug. 20. The Vikings are scheduled to play their first preseason game at the Dome on Aug. 27.
The Metrodome opened in 1982 as home to the Minnesota Twins, the Vikings and University of Minnesota football. The Twins and Gophers have left for outdoor venues, and the Vikings are pressing their case for a new home in the Twin Cities as well.
Kevin Duchschere • 612-673-4455