Contractors and volunteers gathered at the still-closed sports complex The Dome on Saturday as part of continuing repair efforts after a heavy snowfall caused the structure to collapse this past winter.
Late Saturday morning, sections of The Dome's polyvinyl fabric rose like rolling hills of dirty snow.
On the outside, humming machinery pumped water from its sagging sections, and a work crew stitched together two sections of the fabric using metal plates and screws. Inside, volunteers lined up to raise the roof a little at a time, causing water to spill from holes in the material.
About one-third of The Dome, which measures 600 feet long and 300 feet wide, came close to reaching its original height by noon, but a permanent fix and reopening are still months away, officials said.
"We'll have to replace wet insulation from the old portions of the fabric," said Dan Bergquist, a service technician with the building's Minneapolis-based manufacturer Yeadon. "Repairs inside the building will be up to the contractors."
They have their work cut out for them, from the looks of The Dome's interior. The building's turf field is lumpy and partially soaked, small debris litters the floor and the ceiling is stained.
The Dome CEO Curtis Penney said officials currently plan to reopen the building to the public in November.
Not a ‘normal project’
The inflatable roof of The Dome collapsed just before midnight Jan. 21 under the weight of heavy snow. It had been showing signs of stress that day after a storm dumped more than a foot of snow on sections of the city.
No one was hurt when the structure collapsed. It had been evacuated eight hours before. The huge covering that inflates over soccer fields and a running track crumpled and ripped during the collapse.
The day after it happened, the nonprofit that runs The Dome said the building would be repaired and reopened.
A board member gave an initial, optimistic reopening timeline of possibly weeks, but that prediction soon changed to "within a year."
In the following months, concerns arose about whether the building could be salvaged. A last-minute deal orchestrated by prominent Anchorage developer Jonathan Rubini, the chairman and CEO of JL Properties, ensured its survival.
The Dome will largely remain the same in structure, said Dean Cagle, project manager with contractor Davis Construction.
However, officials said last month a new laser system will be installed on the roof to detect deflation.
Two new sections of the building's covering were recently trucked to Alaska from Minnesota, and "an army" was out by Tuesday stretching one of them across the width of the building, Cagle said. The first section was stitched in place by Wednesday morning with the help of a handful of workers from the local skilled-trade unions, he said.
"But that's when wind picked up and shut us down for the day," Cagle said.
Work began once more on Saturday. University of Alaska Anchorage track and field athletes, among other volunteers, stretched out the second section of covering.
Steel cables hold everything in place; those still need to go up and over a portion of The Dome.
"Then, after that, we'll start the air up process, which is weather dependent," Cagle said. "There are a lot of challenges, and it's going to be a long process. This isn't a normal project."
Repairs and resolutions
Since opening in 2007, The Dome has become a popular venue for youth and adult athletes in Anchorage, especially during the winter. Users total in the thousands.
In April, managers announced through Facebook that the sports teams, fitness classes and other groups using The Dome had mostly been shifted to new arrangements.
Among the volunteers Saturday was West High School assistant baseball coach John Opinsky, as well as some members of the team. Before The Dome's collapse, the baseball team used cages there for batting practice and portions of the indoor field for drills, the coach said.
The closure of The Dome sent the team scrambling to get time in various gyms around Anchorage, much like the hundreds of soccer teams that used it, Opinsky said.
But people who had individual memberships at the facility previously told Alaska Dispatch News that the management was unresponsive about The Dome's future.
Penney said he and the board is working on the membership piece of the puzzle. He said he hopes to announce something soon.
"We're very aware of the issue and want to resolve it," Penney said.
Once the covering is fully re-inflated, which should happen by the end of the month, officials will look into what needs repairs and what needs to be replaced, Penney said.
The CEO is optimistic about getting The Dome up and running in the short term and improving its offerings in the future, but "the reality is that what's happening now is just another step in bringing it back."