Engineers recommend replacing Metrodome roof

Published 4:17 pm Thursday, February 10, 2011

MINNEAPOLIS — Engineers who examined the Metrodome roof that collapsed in a December snowstorm recommended on Thursday that it should be replaced rather than repaired, raising the prospect of a lengthier process that could disrupt Minnesota Vikings preseason games.

Engineers from several firms concurred in the recommendation. They wrote in their report that full replacement of the 10-acre roof was the only way to guard against another deflation from defects they might not have found. Several panels ripped under the weight of the snow, but many others appeared undamaged.

“We would not be able to certify that the roof membrane meets industry standard levels of safety without a complete replacement of the roof membrane,” one firm, Walter P. Moore and Associates, in a report.

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Another firm, Geiger Engineers, rated the probability of such defects dooming the roof again “very high.”

The commission that operates the Metrodome, the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, was to vote on the recommendation later in the day so work can start immediately.

The estimate for full repair was $18.3 million. Commission officials had said they expected insurance to cover most of it.

Commission Chairman Ted Mondale earlier estimated that full replacement could take as long as six months, threatening the Vikings’ preseason games in mid-August. But it’s possible those games could be moved to the University of Minnesota’s TCF Bank Stadium, where the team played its last home game this season after being forced out of the Metrodome.

The roof collapsed in the early morning hours of Dec. 13, at the tail end of a snowstorm that pounded the region for about 24 hours straight. TV cameras stationed on the field captured footage of the roof giving way and snow pouring through a tear onto the playing field.

It was the fourth time in the Metrodome’s nearly 30-year history that heavy snow caused the roof to fall, but the most recent collapse was 27 years ago. Metrodome officials initially hoped to get the tears repaired quickly, but difficult weather conditions made the job dangerous and slow-moving and ultimately forced the Vikings to relocate for their last two home games of the season.

A game against the Giants scheduled for that Sunday was postponed a day and played in Detroit, and a week later the Vikings moved to the University of Minnesota’s TCF Bank Stadium for their first game outdoors in 30 years.

Metrodome officials say BirdAir, joined by several other firms, needed several weeks to make their recommendation due to dangerous conditions on the roof. Several planned events have been canceled since the roof’s failure, including hundreds of college baseball games, an ethnic New Year celebration and a monster truck rally.

The roof collapse pushed questions about the Vikings’ future in Minnesota to the fore. The team had already been scheduled to play the final season of its lease there in 2011. The team has long pushed for a new stadium, but the state’s projected $6.2 billion budget deficit has complicated the equation.

State lawmakers have promised to bring forward a stadium bill soon that would include a site, with up to four options including where the Metrodome now sits near downtown. Several commissioners in next-door Ramsey County are preparing a push for a former ammunition plant site in Arden Hills, north of St. Paul.

The commissioner pushing Arden Hills, Tony Bennett, said he envisions county taxpayers contributing at some level not yet decided.

The Vikings have said they would pay about one-third the cost of a roofless stadium. Gov. Mark Dayton and most lawmakers have said they prefer a more expensive roofed or retractable-roof stadium that would be more versatile.

Dayton repeated Thursday in an interview with Minnesota Public Radio that he believes the Vikings should pay for at least a third to one-half of a stadium tab estimated at at least $700 million. Dayton said he believes the state’s share should come not from general taxpayers but by stadium users through fees on stadium purchases such as food and gear or through taxes on hotels and rental cars near the new stadium.