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  • File photos Aug. 2, 2002: Here, the roof is about halfway up to its final position. 

  • April 2, 2001: In an early step of the expansion project, employees of Hagerman Construction Co. work to remove limestone caps on pillars outside Memorial Coliseum.   

  • File July 10, 2002: Welders work on on an end wall that will be raised with the roof.

  • Aug. 2, 2002: Dan Bordner was among many spectators watching the roof make its slow ascent. He had been on-site at 3 a.m. 

  • File Nov. 9, 2002: Taps is played by a trumpeter of the U.S. Navy Band during a rededicaton ceremony at Memorial Coliseum.

  • File May 26, 2002: A worker places a section of roofing over the new upper deck. 

  • Aug. 2, 2002: It took nearly five hours for Memorial Coliseum’s roof to reach its new perch. 

  • File July 31, 2002: Workers do pre-lift testing a few days before raising the roof of Memorial Coliseum.

  • File July 29, 2002: Workers place some of the 16 strand jack assemblies needed to raise the roof of Memorial Coliseum. The cross-like structures were used to guide lifting cables during raising.

  • Aug. 2, 2002: A construction crew places the United States flag atop the roof before it was raised. 

  • File Aug. 8, 2002: Several days after the roof-raising, construction crews work inside the Coliseum. 

  • Aug. 8, 2002: Beams that once held up the roof were cut so it could be lifted. 

  • File June 20, 2001: Crews work on a series of new pillars for the roof at Memorial Coliseum.

  • File May 26, 2002: A view from what would be the new upper deck. The highest seat in the deck would be about as high as the top of the old roof. 

  • File May 26, 2002: Workers guide a section of the Memorial Coliseum's expanded roof into place. 

Thursday, March 28, 2019 1:00 am

Aug. 2, 2002: Raising the roof of Memorial Coliseum

COREY MCMAKEN | The Journal Gazette

Three inches per minute.

Forget about the hare – as far as speed goes, the tortoise might even scoff. But when you're raising something that weighs 980 tons, slow and steady wins. Maybe the tortoise would appreciate that as he zipped by.

But on Aug. 2, 2002 – at a pace even a snail would think was leisurely – the 43,680-square-foot roof of Memorial Coliseum was raised 41 feet and 10 inches. It took almost five hours.

The raising was part of a $34.5 million expansion of the Coliseum that included adding luxury skyboxes and thousands of additional seats 50 years after the venue opened.

Columns and cantilevers were constructed with motors that were attached to the roof with cables. The roof was cut from the rafters and suspended by the new system.

Rain and wind in the morning pushed back the start time to 10:32 a.m., and staff members kept a close eye on weather reports that included thunderstorms in western Allen County. If wind gusts reached 20 mph, the raising would have been halted.

Overcast weather didn't stop spectators from turning out long before the sun rose to witness the undertaking.

With the roof moving at such a slow speed, there wasn't much to see. But that didn't dampen excitement.

“This is history in the making,” Ellen Varner told The Journal Gazette that day. “It's just amazing what they can do.”

When the raising was complete, bolts on opposite corners of the roof were sealed to keep it in place. After more than 12 hours on-site, construction crews could rest.

In the days ahead, the Coliseum was sealed off again under the roof and work began to get the interior ready for a Nov. 9 dedication ceremony that included a parade, music from the U.S. Navy Band and recognition of area veterans.

History Journal appears monthly in print with additional items weekly on The Journal Gazette's website. To comment on items or suggest dates and topics, contact Corey McMaken at 461-8475 or




The following stories appeared in The Journal Gazette.


Aug. 3, 2002: “Coliseum inches to new heights” by Andy Gammill

After more than a year of planning, Friday was the climax of an emotional roller coaster for Memorial Coliseum General Manager Randy Brown.

The raising of the Coliseum's roof had been scheduled to start at 5 a.m. but rain pushed the start time back several times, making Coliseum staff anxious and frustrating those who had come to watch.

In the end it took just under five hours to raise the Coliseum's existing roof 41 feet and 10 inches to rest atop 12 concrete cantilevers.

The procedure was a success and its execution flawless, Coliseum officials said after all was done at 3:12 p.m. Friday.

The $34.5 million expansion will make room for luxury skyboxes and additional seats – steps that officials say make the Coliseum a more attractive venue for concerts and sporting events.

But raising the roof could have been catastrophic had something gone wrong, and even the slightest imperfection in equipment could have canceled it altogether.

It was still dark and the rain steady when spectators started arriving at 4:30 a.m. The rain clouds arrived in the middle of the night.

Winds of more than 5 mph would cause construction crews to hesitate, and gusts of 20 mph would halt the roof raising. Flags near the Coliseum were straight out in the wind.

“I was concerned, frankly,” Brown said 12 hours later after the roof was successfully in place. “I had probably five or six calls with the National Weather Service.”

A new start time was set for 9:45 a.m., when forecasters thought conditions might be more favorable.

But the winds continued.

Finally, at 10:25 Brown left a construction meeting in the Coliseum, walked across the parking lot and took up a position in front of Memorial Stadium, where staff members had temporary quarters.

Brown started a countdown, and at 10:32 a.m. a construction supervisor flipped the switch that would start the roof's ever-so-slow rise to its new position.

Project architects from MSKTD & Associates, a local firm, cheered so loudly from their tent across the street that crews on top of the Coliseum were distracted by the noise.

Coliseum crews dispatched three Fort Wayne police cruisers to ask them to quiet down.

The weather was still overcast, but winds were calm. Twice more winds and rain would threaten the procedure.

For spectators in the parking lot, the series of delays was frustrating because Coliseum officials did not have any way to notify them except through radio stations that were doing live updates.

“I can understand, a project like this, you don't want to do it quick and regret it later,” said Ed Reckweg of Decatur. “But they should have at least had a PR person out here telling us what was going on.”

By 11:15 a.m., the roof had risen a few feet, offering spectators a not-so-spectacular show. It crept up at the rate of 3 inches per minute. Save for occasional flurries of activity high up on the roof, no movement was noticeable.

“It's going real slow,” said Fort Wayne resident Dori Stone, who had been there since 4:30 a.m.

Two hours later, the roof was halfway up its climb, and Brown was at the stadium using his radio to call an assistant who was monitoring a radar screen.

Dark clouds could be seen far to the west.

In the heat, brothers Damion and Dustin O'Hara took their shirts off as they took swigs of soda pop from plastic bottles.

They were there to watch the progress of construction crews led by their father, one of the foremen.

The possibility of a collapse was on their minds.

“It's the first job I've ever been a little nervous about him going in,” Dustin said.

All of the construction workers made it through safely.

Work was progressing slowly but steadily until 2:10 p.m. when a soloist started singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” in the empty Memorial Stadium.

A few minutes into the sound test, Brown rushed into the stadium's sound booth, telling the technician he had to cut the sound immediately.

The sound had echoed across the parking lot and reverberated in the empty shell of the Coliseum, creating sound so loud crews couldn't hear their cues.

“Who would have thought that would be a problem today?” Brown asked with a shrug as he left the sound booth.

The next threat to the procedure wouldn't surface for another hour, and spectators were thrilled that the roof had crept up about 75 percent of the way.

“This is history in the making,” said Ellen Varner, a teacher's aide in Fort Wayne. “It's just amazing what they can do.”

With only 2 or 3 feet left to go at 2:48 p.m., Brown received word from meteorologists that thunderstorms were popping up in western Allen County.

Staff members were assigned to watch the situation develop, but it was past the point of no return.

The roof continued its ascent.

At 3:12 p.m., the Coliseum's project manager called over a radio for Brown.

“The roof raising is complete, the roof raising is complete,” he yelled into the radio.

Crews started the work of sealing two bolts, located on opposite corners of the roof. Those two bolts would be able to keep the roof in place in winds up to 70 mph.

And that was enough for the construction crews after logging more than 12 hours at the site. The rest could wait for a few hours until fresh crews arrived.

Brown went into a skybox in the stadium and for the first time in hours he sat down.

“It went very, very well,” he said. “No problems at all.”

The months of planning had paid off and the biggest part of the $34.5 million expansion was completed.

But the Coliseum staff will have little time to rest, he said.

Besides the work of sealing off the Coliseum and finishing the inside for the Nov. 9 dedication ceremonies, he's working to fill the 2,500 new seats for a slew of events.

In fact, he hints, several major announcements can be expected in the next few weeks. The Coliseum is now a much more attractive venue, he said.

And he had to go home to wish his wife a happy birthday.


Nov. 10, 2002: “Renovated arena gets high praise” by Carin Chappelow

Memorial Coliseum welcomed back Allen County residents in style Saturday.

A rededication ceremony included a parade, patriotic music from the U.S. Navy Band and recognition of area veterans. But the building itself – especially its 40-foot vertical growth spurt – made the biggest impression.

All eyes seemed to be drawn upward almost immediately upon entering the newly renovated arena. Heads and necks craned to take in the raised roof.

Caralene Lupp, who came Thursday to the Coliseum to help give the plumbing a final test by flushing toilets, returned Saturday for the dedication ceremony.

“It's just unbelievable how much height there is,” Lupp said.

Lupp has been attending Komets hockey games at the Coliseum since it first opened 50 years ago and had tickets for Saturday night's sold-out game against Quad City.

Blue flooring covered the waiting ice during the ceremony and a stretch of red carpet led to plush floor-level seats. But many people elected to watch from high above in the new 600-level “nosebleed” seats added as part of the expansion.

When the work is complete, the Coliseum will seat nearly 13,000 for a concert and 10,500 for hockey games. Before the expansion, it would hold nearly 8,000 for a hockey game and about 10,000 for concerts.

“The scale of this room is what most people find amazing,” Coliseum General Manager Randy Brown said during his welcoming remarks.

Brown said the renovated Allen County War Memorial Coliseum will always serve as a tribute to the county's veterans.

“You have our promise that we will watch over this, our living memorial,” he said.

Saturday's ceremony celebrated the reopening of the Coliseum, but it also honored veterans from all five military branches of service.

“Fifty years ago, this building was dedicated to all the veterans in the community and today, we're doing it again,” Marilyn Renbarger, chaplain of the Allen County Council of Veterans, said.

But Allen County commissioner Edwin Rousseau asked everyone in attendance to acknowledge not only the veterans in the audience, but also those who played a role in the Coliseum expansion project.

“We are in truly great company,” he said.

When the $34.5 million project began 20 months ago, naysayers didn't believe the roof could be raised, the suites would be leased or that large-scale events would come, Rousseau said. They have already been proven wrong, even though construction will continue into early 2003, he said.

After the ceremony, the Coliseum remained open for more than an hour as adults and children explored the arena on self-guided tours. Most of those tours included a hike to the very top of the upper level and into the pressbox. “This may not be the seventh or even the eighth wonder of the world, but for Allen County and all of northeast Indiana, it's certainly No. 1,” state Sen. Tom Wyss said.