Project update: Rising to the challenge

The story of The Dome’s re-inflation is one that Dean Cagle might never forget. It began in June 2017, nearly five months after it collapsed under heavy snow and caused a major ripple across the Anchorage sports community.

Jonathan Rubini, CEO and chairman of JL Properties, asked if Davis Constructors & Engineers Inc. was willing to take on The Dome. Rubini was willing to work with the bondholders and make the needed repairs a reality.

Cagle, a project superintendent for Davis, had just finished the Anchorage Museum expansion project downtown and was ready for another challenge.

Little did Cagle know what he was getting himself into. Reviving The Dome turned into one of the most challenging projects of his 13-year career at Davis.

“I’ve done a lot of cool things with Davis,” Cagle said, “but this one was one of a kind.”

On June 28, 2017, Cagle visited the site for the first time and all he remembers seeing was an astronomical amount of fabric, with a lot of items under it.

“The building is 4 acres,” Cagle said. “When you’re dealing in acres, it’s just massive.”

The Dome, which opened in 2007, is known as one of the largest air-supported sports structures in the world. It measures 290 feet by 600 feet and is 85 feet tall at its highest point.

Before its collapse on Jan. 21, 2017, its turfed surface was used by thousands of Anchorage athletes.

Cagle had no experience working on an air-inflated structure of this magnitude. Few people do. He did, however, have experience building Visqueen domes in the winter that were big enough to house backhoes and graders. These domes were made of reinforced poly with ropes going over the top and filled with hot air.

“I understand the principle that heat rises, fabric goes up,” Cagle said.

But on that day in late June, he knew he needed more than just hot air and rope to fix this mess. He saw pointy objects protruding the fabric upward, standing water saturating the

fabric and insulation, and torn fabric that needed to be replaced.

Minus the standing water, each of the eight main fabric sections weigh 10,000 pounds. Davis Constructors needed to remove two of these sections, plus all the insulation. In total, 250,000 feet of insulation needed to be removed.

To make the challenge even greater, Davis Constructors had a sensitive timeline in regard to working with Yeadon, the Minnesota-based company that manufactured The Dome. September and October are busy months for Yeadon employees, who are booked solid with appointments for setting up other seasonal air-supported domes across the


“I would have loved to start the project during the first week of August when it was still dry,” Cagle said. “It rained for three or four straight days right before we began.”

Thanks to Alice Federenko, then acting CEO of Anchorage Sportsplex Inc., the nonprofit that owns and operates the facility, Cagle found the people power he needed to move the fabric.

“She hooked me up with a contact with the Army, and 60 or 70 soldiers came out,” Cagle said. “I remember the first time we lined up 60 soldiers, plus 10 Davis guys and three Yeadon guys.

We all line up and everyone said, ‘One, two, three, pull.’”

Everybody pulled until the fabric was met by a two-story roadblock. The entry building that was connected to The Dome was in their way.

“You’re trying to put a large shirt on an extra-large guy,” Cagle said. “You have to be within a quarter of an inch to get the seams matched up. You don’t have a lot of tolerance.”

The weight room, the bleachers, the batting cages and the shot-disc cage were also hindering getting the seams to match up. The seams are joined by 8-inch aluminum plates that fit threaded studs into prepunched holes in the seamed edge of the fabric. The threaded studs are capped with a top plate and joined with nuts. The plates run continuously along the 350-foot length of each seam.

To get around the structures, crew members had to do stealth missions, going inside the fabric in order to get poles safely cut out and out of the way.

“Just getting everything out from underneath the fabric so we could get the fabric to lay as flat as possible was one of the major challenges,” Cagle said.

It took nine days for crew members and volunteers to get the structure bolted together and inflated. Volunteers from the Army and from several union trade organizations, the University of Alaska Anchorage Track and Field, and from baseball and soccer groups that use The Dome all pitched in to get the structure back in the air.

Once The Dome was stable and fully inflated, it was time to clean up the turf, which was littered with broken glass from the fallen lights. But in the end, project leaders determined the turf needed a complete replacement. They also installed lasers that point to the ceiling and monitor The Dome height at all times to detect deflation.

There are also fewer objects inside The Dome.

“The owners have become minimalists, and that’s a good thing,” Cagle said. “You don’t want a bunch of pointy objects pointing up. In theory, there’s always a reason you might have to set

it down.

“The more prepared you are on a day-to-day operation, the better off you are.”


Kevin Klott is a freelance writer who lives in Anchorage.