Experts inspect damaged dome roof

Updated: December 14, 2010, 2:53 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

MINNEAPOLIS -- If the Metrodome cannot be repaired in time, Monday night's Chicago Bears-Minnesota Vikings game will be played at the University of Minnesota's TCF Bank Stadium.

The stadium's Teflon roof gave way early Sunday after a storm pounded the region, dumping 17 inches of snow on the city -- the fifth-heaviest snowfall in state history.

Roy Terwilliger, president of the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, which owns and operates the Metrodome, said the Vikings and the NFL are working on a dual plan for the two sites as crews work on damage assessments. A decision is expected Tuesday night.

"They want to definitely keep it in Minnesota," Terwilliger said Tuesday on "The Waddle & Silvy Show" on ESPN 1000.

Experts from the company that made the roof, along with a crew of construction workers, electricians and plumbers were assessing the dome Tuesday afternoon and aimed to lay out options by Tuesday evening, Terwilliger said.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration had to first ensure the stadium was safe before work could begin.

Terwilliger declined to speculate on the chances of moving the game outdoors to TCF Bank Stadium.

"Obviously we're anxious for it to be here [at the Metrodome]," Terwilliger said. "They know that. We certainly at the same time are not going to compromise the safety of anybody working on this job nor would we certify the facility available until we're assured that everything is OK. But the time frame is the biggest thing right now."

[+] EnlargeMetrodome Collapsed
AP Photo/Ann HeisenfeltThe inflatable roof of the Metrodome collapsed early Sunday morning after a snowstorm dumped as much as 20 inches on Minneapolis.

Scott Ellison, University of Minnesota associate athletic director in charge of facilities and event management, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune on Monday that the school would need five to six days to get its facility ready for the game.

"Looking at what we have over there now, it would take us all this week to get the snow out," Ellison told the Star Tribune.

Ellison told the Star Tribune that there are 4- to 5-foot snow drifts on the field and throughout the stadium. "We've only had one experience removing snow from the stadium, and we learned a lot from that process," Ellison told the Star Tribune. "For the Iowa game when we had that eight inches of snow prior to, we thought, 'Well, let's take our time getting it out. There's no rush.' We found out that we needed to get on it right away in order to get it out." Ellison told the Star Tribune that the school would need a crew of at least 20 to 30 people working all week to get the work done.

But snow removal is not the only obstacle to hosting an event at the outdoor stadium. Ellison told the Star Tribune that the stadium, located on the Minnesota campus, was winterized at the end of the Gophers' season and the school would have to turn the water on throughout the facility.

"It's not as easy as just throwing a switch or a valve and walking away," he told the Star Tribune. "You have to open up the water line and make sure there's no leaks and make sure everything is running properly."

Vikings vice president for public affairs and stadium development Lester Bagley told The Associated Press that the team is "determined" to host the Bears next Monday night "in front of our fans." He says the Vikings likely will take a "dual-track approach," trying to get the Metrodome ready while also preparing TCF Bank Stadium.

According to the University of Minnesota's athletics website, TCF Bank Stadium has a capacity of 50,805. The Vikings website says the Metrodome holds 64,111 for football.

Three executives from Birdair, Inc., the Amherst, N.Y. company that constructed the roof, met with Metrodome officials Monday. Pat Milan, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, told the AP they assessed the position and the size of the tears in the roof to figure out the best course of action.

"Everyone is going as quickly as they can and as safely as they can," Milan said.

Terwilliger told the Tribune that three torn roof panels were the only damage the storm inflicted, and that the playing field and seating areas were unharmed.

Sunday's roof collapse was the fourth since the since the 29-year-old facility opened, and it has rekindled the debate over whether the cash-strapped state should build a new venue using taxpayer money.

"It's an aging facility. We all know that. This actually ramps up that part of the discussion," said state Sen. Julie Rosen, who said she will introduce a new stadium bill when the Legislature convenes in January.

The Vikings have lobbied lawmakers for more than 10 years for a new stadium, arguing the Metrodome is outdated and doesn't generate enough revenue. The team's lease runs through the 2011 season, and the Vikings have said they won't renew it. The NFL team is the stadium's only major tenant after the Minnesota Twins and University of Minnesota moved into new facilities, which received public subsidies, in the past two years.

When the Metrodome was built, its design was considered state-of-the art -- and its Teflon roof was less expensive than a solid one. Although some domes with similar designs are still in use in Detroit, Vancouver and Syracuse, N.Y., new stadiums have been built over the years, and the inflated-type domes have given way to shinier models.

The last time the Metrodome's roof gave way was 27 years ago, forcing the postponement of a Twins game in April 1983. Since then, building staff have learned a few tricks about dealing with snow storms -- including blasting the roof with hot water to melt the snow and pumping hot air between two layers of fabric that make up the roof, said Steve Maki, MSFC director of facilities and engineering.

Those techniques were used over the weekend, but strong winds made it too dangerous for crews to continue working to clear snow off the roof, he said.

The roof collapse dominated talk radio in the Twin Cities on Monday, and striking video of a truckload of snow dumping on the field nearly 200 feet below was in heavy rotation on television.

"The images on TV can't help but have an influence on public perception," said Rep. Keith Downey, a Republican from Edina who said he opposes both new taxes and state general fund spending for the Vikings.

But there might be little financial support for a new stadium -- especially as Minnesota faces a budget deficit projected at $6.2 billion. State leaders have said there's little they can do for the team until they solve the budget woes, although the Vikings are working on a new proposal to present to the next Legislature.

The Vikings previously pledged roughly one-third of the cost for a new stadium, estimated at $700 million or more depending on the model and the site, but they've had difficulty getting support for public money to pay for the rest.

Bagley declined to comment Sunday about how the collapse could affect the team's push for a new facility. He didn't return calls Monday.

Rosen, a Republican from Fairmont, wouldn't give specifics about the bill she planned to propose next year, but she said no state funds would be used. Instead, user fees and other revenue streams would pay for it, she said.

Gov.-elect Mark Dayton's spokeswoman, Katie Tinucci, said the roof collapse hasn't changed Dayton's position on stadium legislation. His stance has been that the public benefits of a new stadium would have to outweigh the public cost, but he hasn't spelled out details.

"We expected it to be an issue this session no matter what," Tinucci said Monday, adding that the Democrat will look at stadium proposals after he takes office in three weeks.

Despite the hoopla, stadium critic Phil Krinkie of the Minnesota Taxpayers League said replacing the Metrodome because of storm damage makes about as much sense as replacing the New Orleans Superdome because it was damaged by Hurricane Katrina. And because the last time the roof collapsed was in 1983, there's nothing fundamentally wrong with the roof design, he said.

"If it doesn't happen for the next 20 years, I think we still have an extended period of useful life of the facility," Krinkie said.

Melissa Ferderer, 41, a Spanish teacher in the Minneapolis Public Schools, said Monday that she opposed using taxpayer money for a new stadium for the Vikings.

"I just think that the public spending should go toward things that are good for the general public as opposed to a special section, and I feel there's too much private profit made off that industry. I would like to see this place revamped," she said of the dome.

But Jeffrey Evander, 32, a graphic designer from Bloomington, said keeping the Vikings was "crucial" and worth a tax increase.

"Part of a metropolis, a true city, is having your sports teams," he said.

Information from The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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