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Volume 22 No. 44
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Original retractable roof in Toronto getting $9M modernization

Rogers Centre’s majestic retractable roof has proved its durability over the stadium’s first 25 years of operation, said Dave McCormick, the Toronto Blue Jays’ manager of engineering.

But advances in technology and the use of common parts at newer stadiums have left the old SkyDome with a fading, much older operations system, leading to an overhaul for that portion of the roof structure, McCormick said.

For the past four years, Walter P Moore, a structural engineering firm that works on sports facilities, has been consulting for the Blue Jays to determine the extent of roof upgrades. The total cost, including a newly designed mechanization system, will run about $9 million, McCormick said.

The investment covers the tracks on which the roof runs, rubber underpadding, motors and wheels, and a new software system controlling the operation. “Everything that moves or that the roof travels on is being replaced, upgraded or repaired,” McCormick said.

The refurbishment will make parts for the Rogers Centre roof easier to order.

The stadium’s retractable roof is a proprietary system with very large customized parts, compared with newer sports roofs produced by Uni-Systems Engineering. As a result, the Blue Jays must place some orders one year in advance from Siemens Canada, the only firm making them.

“God forbid they go out of business,” McCormick said. “If the roof dies, it takes us anywhere from five minutes to two days to get it fixed. But it’s been very reliable. We’ve had some operations issues but no catastrophic instances. We work very hard to make sure it’s running smoothly.”

Another reason for the upgrades: The Blue Jays are weighing a conversion from artificial turf to a grass field in 2018 after the roof is completely renovated, and they need to ensure that the roof can open more frequently to catch sunlight should they decide to move to a grass surface.

To this point, no decisions have been made on the future playing surface, McCormick said.

The roof now opens and closes 60 to 70 times a season, not a lot compared with stadiums with grass whose roofs move up to 400 times a year, he said. The Blue Jays keep the roof closed during the winter months, road trips and any time during the season when temperatures dip below 50 degrees.

The roof refurbishment comes after the Blue Jays saw the structure get hung up on its rails during a game, the result of movement by the concrete and steel beams supporting the roof a few inches over time. It’s something called “creep” in the construction industry, said Lee Slade, a structural engineer and principal with Walter P Moore.

Creep developed stress in the structure, effectively creating pinch points in two locations, affecting the roof’s movement, he said.

Newer stadiums with retractable roofs such as Minute Maid Park in Houston have a mechanism built into them that can sense when one piece of the roof is moving ahead of the other portion. When that happens, it automatically corrects a misalignment in the rail transport system, Slade said.

The Blue Jays’ stadium is 11 years older than the Astros’ facility, and its unique roof does not have the same level of backup support. Adding more layers of protection is part of the upgrades, and the modernization will make it easier to order parts from multiple suppliers, McCormick said.

“Rogers Centre didn’t have any controls like that so the operator would have to stop the roof, back it up, reset it and sort of drive it the way you drive a tank,” Slade said. “What we found is we needed to do some structural corrections … to keep the roof from binding at these pinch points.”

The Toronto facility is not the only stadium renovating its retractable roof. Safeco Field in Seattle turns 15 years old in July after opening midseason in 1999, and the Mariners’ facility is going through an eight-year, $8 million project to replace the roof’s wheel assemblies.