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Milestone celebrated for Vikings stadium

Roughly 21 months after the first scoops of dirt were moved for the new home of the Minnesota Vikings football team, ironworkers on Thursday planned to put the final steel beam in place for the stadium as part of a traditional “topping out” ceremony.

Turns out, the actual “topping out” part didn’t happen as planned, because lightning forced the construction team to postpone the placement of the steel beam into the roof, about 230 feet above the rain-soaked ground in downtown Minneapolis.

The beam was raised Friday morning at 7:45 a.m. and installation was completed by 9:15 a.m., Jenn Hathaway, spokeswoman for the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority, said in an email.

Thursday’s gathering was a mostly festive event to celebrate a key milestone in building the $1.08 billion U.S. Bank Stadium, which is on schedule to open in 10 months, just in time for the 2016 football season.

The project is being paid for with $498 million in public money, including $348 million from the state and $150 million from the city of Minneapolis. The team is paying for the rest.

After a contentious debate, the state approved the deal in May 2012.

Michele Kelm-Helgen, chair of the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority, thanked the bill authors who “courageously stepped forward to make this happen,” as well as the Gov. Mark Dayton and others who backed the project.

She also recognized the stadium designer, HKS of Dallas, the construction team of Mortenson and Minneapolis-based Thor Construction, the subcontractors, and the workers “who give their heart, soul unbelievable skills to build this fabulous stadium every day.”

“We, together, are causing amazing things to happen,” she said.

Lt. Gov. Tina Smith recalled that when she first got involved with the project she was looking at spreadsheets. “This is way more fun. It’s way more fun than spreadsheets,” she said.

“This stadium is more than just a fantastic public facility,” Smith added. “It is an anchor for economic development, not only for Minneapolis, but for the whole state.”

As for the construction, Mortenson senior vice president John Wood said the beam placement will happen about nine days earlier than it was expected to, based on a schedule that Mortenson general superintendent Dave Mansell put together three years ago.

“The designs we had at that point – they were just cartoons,” Wood said. “But Dave Mansell is a genius when it comes to planning and executing a plan for a complex structure like this.”

For many, Thursday’s event was their first chance to see inside the 1.7 million-square-foot stadium that has been under construction since December 2013.

Walking around on the muddy ground, with dark skies above and sporadic rain falling through the roof’s open spaces, visitors in construction hardhats and yellow vests got a first-hand look at the project.

Visitors ran the gamut from team owners Mark and Zygi Wilf to elected officials and Vikings legends Alan Page, Carl Eller and Chuck Foreman.

“It’s an exciting day,” Zygi Wilf said in an interview after the formal remarks. “We are happy to be able to have this be part of the Vikings legacy.”

Wood paid tribute to the subcontractors and workers on the job, arguably the most complex stadium yet built in the nation, in his view.

“Just look around and marvel at the skill, knowledge, ingenuity, and the muscle and sweat of every man and woman that has been part of this project,” Wood said.

One of those workers is Brad Smith, a 29-year-old employee of Shakopee-based Danny’s Construction, which is doing steel erection work. Smith spends much of his work day connecting steel beams 200 feet or more above the ground.

He has to look down to “see what’s coming and keep an eye on the guys on the ground,” he says. But the heights don’t faze him.

“You get used to it,” said Smith, who was still wearing his fall protection gear while answering questions about his work.

The trickiest part? “With this job it’s the slope,” he said. “Most of the buildings are flat. And you throw weather at it, whether it’s rain or snow or ice or wind. That affects it.”

One of the next project milestones is to get the building fully enclosed, which should happen in November. The large operable doors on the west side will be completed in early spring.

Seat installation started about three weeks ago on the stadium’s east end.

“Purple seats – do you see that?” Zygi Wilf said. “They look pretty good.”

Thursday’s event was bittersweet, as it comes a little more than three weeks after a Berwald Roofing & Sheet Metal employee fell 50 feet into a snow gutter and suffered a fatal injury while working on the stadium’s roof.

Wood called for a moment of silence to remember the fallen worker, 35-year-old Jeramie Gruber, who died Aug. 26.

“Aug. 26 stands as a shocking reminder of the dangers involved in construction – dangers that we all have a responsibility to recognize, manage and avoid every day,” Wood said.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do – about 1.6 million more work hours – to reach the finish line. But … we’ve got enough time to finish this project safely.”

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