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Work on Superdome progressing with 120 days to go

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.