The trek of Tropical Storm Isaac through the Caribbean had officials at Marlins Park in hurricane preparation mode for the first time Thursday.
A change in the direction and intensity of the storm that elevates the threat to South Florida could have work underway to clamp down the retractable roof as soon as Saturday night, said Claude Delorme, Marlins chief of ballpark operations.
It takes about 16 hours to secure the roof, which is rated to withstand winds up to 146 mph.
“There is sensitivity as to when we do it because we don’t want to do it too early if the winds are not elevated, because we have to protect the field as well. If you close the field for three days the grass is going to be damaged as a result,” Delorme said. “Our objective would be to do it as late as possible. That would be Sunday at the latest, if the storm picks up in intensity.”
Timing of the decision is critical as the roof can’t be moved in winds exceeding 40 mph.
Ensuring the roof can withstand the extremes of a prime hurricane region was the toughest challenge in the design of Marlins Park. The result is the most durable retractable roof yet constructed on a stadium. Houston’s Minute Maid Park was built to resist winds of 110 mph.
In hurricane configuration, the roof’s three giant panels are situated slightly apart, with two 10-foot gaps and one of 16 feet. That is intended to avoid an inequity of pressure inside and outside that could literally pop the top off the ballpark, as often happens to houses in hurricanes.
“You get some rain inside the facility, but it takes away a lot of pressure that is pushing against the roof,” Delorme said. “That’s based on the assessment from Day 1when we put our drawings together; one of the major focuses was how does the roof react to major wind loads.”
The roof mechanism contains 96 sets of tie-downs to secure the roof. About 70 percent are automatically deployed. The others have to be manually clamped into place with turnbuckles. That is handled by several two-man teams.
The six panels in the operable window at the east end of the ballpark also have to be tied down in the event of a hurricane. That process takes about four hours.
Bracing the roof and windows is only part of a complex task in preparing the ballpark for a major storm. Everything from the aquariums and the screen behind home plate to movable objects outside and in the concourses must be dealt with.
Adding to the concerns at Marlins Park during the next few days is that the Marlins begin a homestand Tuesday night against the Nationals. Time is needed to put the ballpark back in operational mode.
The Marlins got a break from nature with no hurricane threats throughout the 2 ½ years of construction, which helped keep the project on schedule for opening this season.
Workers did put the roof and outfield windows in hurricane configuration as part of the commissioning process prior to Opening Day. The Marlins are hopeful they won’t have to do so again this weekend.
“It looks like right now it is moving west. With this one we feel pretty good about it, but things can change quickly,” Delorme said, adding, “We’re ready to pounce and carry this out. We want to make sure we leave enough time and not be surprised at the end of the day.”