Dome deflation successful; Aging fabric roof breathes its last Wednesday morning

Dome deflation successful; Aging fabric roof breathes its last Wednesday morning The fabric roof of the DakotaDome no longer rises above the exterior walls of the structure. Wednesday it was transformed into a protective tarp that will shield the interior walls and floor as workers make progress on constructing the building's new steel roof. (Photo courtesy of USD) by David Lias The DakotaDome ax The University of South Dakota, already sporting some of the metal beams that will support its new steel roof, had its appearance permanently changed Wednesday.

The Dome is still part of Vermillion's landscape, but it no longer sports its dune-like fabric roof.

Construction workers climbed a central tower in the Dome and cut a 30-foot circular hole through the fabric around the tower.

That caused the roof to lose its major source of support � air.

For the past two decades, the DakotaDome, one of the most unique structures in South Dakota, has been protected from the elements largely because of air pressure that has kept the fabric roof up.

Once workers cut the large hole in the roof, it peacefully came to rest with its peak approximately 20 feet above the Dome's interior floor.

Ken Schmidt, director of facilities management at the university, said Michael Van Dyke,

senior superintendent of Harris Construction, and his crew did an outstanding job of orchestrating Wednesday morning's activities.

Harris Construction, from Lawrence, KS, is the general contractor for the new roof construction project.

The crew had originally planned to deflate the Dome on Monday. High winds hampered work that day, and on Tuesday, thunderstorms made climbing about on the steel towers too risky.

"When it (the roof) did come down this morning," Schmidt said Wednesday afternoon, "it came down very respectfully and gracefully."

Schmidt said the fans that have provided the air pressure to suspend the fabric roof over the Dome were still running as the roof was deflated.

"They were on full, as much air as they could pump into it, and the roof just floated down," he said.

It took about 10 minutes for the roof to collapse. It is still serving as a shelter for the Dome; as workers make progress on the new steel roof, the fabric roof will act much as a protective tarp, shielding the interior walls and floor.

Workers are now taking steps to make sure water collected by the collapsed roof after a rain isn't a problem.

"They're building a pond," Schmidt said, "around that opening in the center so when all the water flows down to it, it will collect in the pond."

Water collected in the pond will be pumped out the Dome's back door through a pipe.

The deflation is part of the $11.8 million project to replace the roof of the 22-year-old facility. The new steel framed, metal roof will be 40 feet higher than the previous, air-inflated roof. In addition, air conditioning, improved indoor lighting and better outdoor landscaping surrounding the facility will be part of the Dome's renovations.

Wednesday marked the first time the Dome's roof was deflated since 1979, when it slightly collapsed from a lack of pressure following a tear during a blizzard. There have been other times when portions began to fall, but the entire roof has never completely collapsed.

"We've never really done this before," Schmidt said. "This is one of the first controlled hole cuts for this type of roof ever. Most similar facilities either destroy the entire building or remove sections or parts of the roof, but there has never been a project that removed the entire roof. It went better then we could have dreamed."

The deflation was watched by three USD employees who have worked on the Dome roof throughout its 22-year life.

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Dave Stockland, Michael Rath and Doug Severson have all worked on the snow removal team since the Dome's opening in 1978.

"We are honoring these three because they have been here since day one, but there are many others who have worked for years at the Dome since it opened, but just recently retired," Schmidt said. "They all deserve recognition for their services."

Weather-related delays in the new roof construction has helped fuel rumors that the project is running into other difficulties.

Gossip floating throughout the community has indicated that the walls of the Dome aren't strong enough for the heavier steel roof, and or that footings are a problem.

Schmidt said the rumors are false. The walls aren't cracking. Workers are adding extra support to some footings, he said, but they knew three years ago that those steps would have to be taken.

"There really is nothing wrong. The project is fine, it's going just like it was planned," Schmidt said. "It's taking a little longer than was hoped because of some delays partly due to the weather and unique nature of the project. A lot of this has never been done before."

He lightheartedly said that another major rumor circulating throughout the community is that the central tower will have to remain in place to support the steel roof.

"It's being said that it's being kept in place to give us a home field advantage to help us win against the (SDSU) Jackrabbits," Schmidt said. "That's just a rumor. We don't need the tower in place to beat the Jackrabbits, so we are going to take it out."

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