Work on Superdome progressing with 120 days to go

Updated: May 25, 2006, 6:20 PM ET
Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS -- Sun rays penetrating the Louisiana Superdome roof, illuminating spots on an otherwise dimly lit floor like concert spotlights, formed an image of Hurricane Katrina's destruction that still lingers in the nation's memory.

On Thursday, 120 days before the slated reopening of one of America's most famous sporting arenas, the shafts of light were there again, stark as before. Only now they suggested progress in a stadium that -- like many structures here -- is literally a shell of its former self.

More than half of the 9.7-acre roof has been replaced as workers cut out old decking one small section at a time -- hence the sunlight -- and install new sheets of galvanized steel.

Inside, the suite levels are a forest of metal studs with a canopy of exposed wiring and crisscrossing ceiling tile supports. Once-carpeted concourses and ramps now have floors of dusty concrete, awaiting sealant and an epoxy resin finish. What were once concession stands are empty spaces defined only by stacked cinder blocks where a counter might be.

The amount of work that must be done in the next four months, evident during a media tour and briefing Thursday, would appear overwhelming to the lay person. But it is not as staggering as the statistics detailing what already has been done since demolition and cleanup work began about six months ago.

The removal of 4,000 tons of trash and debris, 1.6 million square feet of carpeting, 650,000 square feet of wall board and 500,000 square feet of ceiling tiles are but a few examples.

About 70,000 seats have been cleaned and dried, and now each section is neatly covered with a white, translucent plastic while work continues on the roof and throughout the building.

As for the field where fans hope to see top draft pick Reggie Bush run wild? It has yet to be installed atop a concrete floor that is currently home to a pair of large cranes, stacks of roof decking and other construction materials.

"It's an unprecedented situation in American stadium history," said Doug Thornton, regional vice president of SMG, the company that manages the state-owned Superdome. "There's no other stadium that's been destroyed by a natural disaster like this that you can look to for guidance. We've had to kind of start from scratch."

The total cost of the project will run about $185.4 million. Of that, the Federal Emergency Management Agency is paying about $120 million, or 90 percent of whatever work is considered to be repairs, as opposed to improvements.

However, Thornton noted that, because repairs in many cases are so extensive, FEMA is essentially helping to pay for improvements, since updated designs, materials and fixtures are being used to refurbish the 30-year-old building.

The NFL also is pitching in with multimillion dollar grants to be used to dress up suites and premium seating areas.

Work is scheduled to continue through the coming football season and into the following summer, wrapping up around the start of the 2007 preseason in August.

But officials stressed the dome would be "football ready" when the Saints host the Falcons on Sept. 25, even if the suites have bare concrete floor and other finishing touches await.

On television, the finished product will look much like what the world saw during any of the six Super Bowls played there. The three-level seating plan will be the same, with the most noticeable difference being a thin video board, called a ribbon board, replacing the facade of the upper deck.

Scoreboard video screens behind each end zone also will be enlarged.

Spectators will see the major differences in concourses and at concession stands, which are being modernized with stainless steel features meant to provide a clean, freshly rebuilt feel, said Paul Griesemer, the project's architectural director from the Minneapolis, Ind.-based firm Ellerbe Becket.

It will stand in sharp contrast to the scene at the dome in the days after Katrina left about 30,000 flood-displaced residents trapped there with no air conditioning or working bathrooms, as garbage piled up amid the stench of perspiration and raw sewage.

Superdome officials said more than 80 percent of concession areas will be open by the first game. All bathrooms will be clean and working. All seating, including suites, will be available.

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press