Cost of stadium’s retractable roof still bone of contention

It’s pretty safe to say that barring some type of meteorological miracle, the roof on Lucas Oil Stadium won’t be open for tonight’s Indianapolis Colts game.

Most people would understand that decision with rain and cold in the forecast. But on days like Dec. 18, when the skies were clear and game-time temperatures were in the 40s, the same pesky questions arise about the usefulness of the retractable roof in such a climate and the expense of making the stadium a convertible.

It’s difficult for architects and engineers who worked on the stadium to pinpoint the exact cost of adding a retractable roof as opposed to a stationary one. Or maybe they just don’t want to. But it’s true that some of the same materials and engineering would be used whether it was retractable or not.

One thing is certain. The cost isn’t insignificant. Construction experts pegged it between $70 million and $90 million. That’s roughly 10 percent or more of the entire cost of the $720 million structure. It should be noted that a good chunk of the expense comes from local residents—in one form or another.

All and all, though, there’s still a solid argument for the roof.

First, it should be pointed out that several events have been drawn to the facility—from marching band competitions to the Big Ten Football Championships—because it has the flexibility to be an indoor or outdoor venue. It also was included in the U.S.'s World Cup Soccer bid due to its retractable roof.

The Indianapolis Colts and Capital Improvement Board usually open the roof if it’s between 50 and 80 degrees with no chance of precipitation. It was decided when they designed the facility that it would be too expensive to put drainage inside to whisk off rain water and make the electronics waterproof.

It's also a considerable cost to bring the temperatures back to a pleasent 68 degree range if the roof is open and the temperature inside the stadium soars too high or plunges too low. Think about how much it costs to bring the temperatures in your relatively small house back under control after the HVAC has been shut off for a while.

Despite these constraints, the roof on the stadium—which opened in 2008—has been retracted for 21 Colts home games. Texas Stadium, the $1.1 billion home of the Dallas Cowboys that opened in 2009, has opened its roof for two games.

I’m not approved by the American Meteorological Association, but I’d have to guess the weather in North Texas is a little more conducive to popping the top of the stadium than Indianapolis.

Despite the fact that Lucas Oil Stadium’s roof has been retracted 10 times more often than its Texas counterpart and it is a selling point to some groups, this debate isn’t likely to float away in the wind anytime soon—whether the roof is open or not.

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