When he made his initial visit to the Walter Payton Center, Paul Mitoraj joked that his first reaction was to "turn around and go back home."

Now that his work on the project is completed, Mitoraj, project manager for Alsip, Ill.-based Nelson Bros. Inc., says he can look back and laugh. But the challenges associated with installing a new metal roof were not a laughing matter at the time.

The Walter Payton Center in Lake Forest Hills, Ill., is used for practice and training by the Chicago Bears football team. It's named in honor of the late Bears running back, who died of a rare liver disease in 1999.

Last year, the center's deteriorating roof was in need of major structural repairs. A metal roof was chosen to replace it. This wouldn't be a problem if the center weren't an 85-foot-high structure with a vaulted "barrel" roof.

If that wasn't difficult enough, the location of the training center and a tight schedule further challenged Mitoraj and employees of the 75-year-old metal roofing and siding company.

The Walter Payton Center in Lake Forest, Ill., was in need of a new metal roof. The previous roof was reported to have major structural problems. Nelson Bros. Inc. of Alsip, Ill., was hired to do the work. Image courtesy of Nelson Bros. Inc.

The challenge

According to Mitoraj, the project, which began in May 2005 and wrapped up in July, was one of the most challenging - and rewarding - projects he's been involved with.

The project's biggest challenge was the long metal panels needed for the roof, he said. Nelson was subcontracted by Riddiford Roofing Co. of Arlington Heights, Ill., to install the panels. Mitoraj said the owners of the facility wanted as few visible seams as possible. To do this, the metal panels would need to be taken down from the roof's peak and rolled down the bending side of the structure. This required 154-foot-long panels.

Nelson Bros. used a 24-gauge pre-finished metal with silver-metal paint for the installation.

Mitoraj and his team weren't sure how to make panels that big and install them. The fabrication would not only need to be done on-site, but on the roof of the center.

Mitoraj traveled to San Antonio to meet with representatives of machinery maker Berridge Manufacturing Co. Nelson Bros. chose to use Berridge's Zee-Lock roll-forming machine and needed to find out how to fabricate the lengthy metal panels and get them down the side of the building.

Workers in aerial lifts guided the 154-foot metal panels down the side of the sloped building. Image courtesy of Nelson Bros. Inc.

Flip it

Steve Fondell, sales representative for Berridge Manufacturing, said the solution was to "flip" the roll former.

"This was the first time we tried using the machine on its side," he said.

Moving the roll former allowed the coils to run through the machine horizontally instead of vertically, Fondell explained.

The next challenge was getting the machine on top of the building and moving it along the roof.

"(Nelson Bros.) came up with a great idea to lay railroad tracks," said Fondell.

The roll former was placed on a makeshift railroad track, which made it possible to pull the machine along the building wherever it was needed. To get the roll former on those tracks, a 90-ton crane was used. The crane was supplied by IMBR Crane Co. and it was used to place the Zee-Lock machine on tracks that ran the length of the training center roof.

Placement of the crane was very important, Mitoraj said. The Walter Payton Center is surrounded by protected wetlands. This meant that the crane could only be used at three specified locations so not to disturb the surrounding areas.

"Most people will roll the panels on the ground and hang them on the roof," said Mitoraj.

But not in this case. The crane was then used to lift 300-pound coils to the roof for fabricating. The coils were fed through the machine and rolled down the side of the building.

One of the large panels required four workers to install it. One was at the top of the roof making the panels, while the others guided them down the side of the roof. Once the panels were cut, a cable was used to set it into place.

After the panels were secured on the side of the building, the roll former was manually pushed down the railroad track and into place for the next round.

One worker operated a roll-forming machine at the peak of the roof, which was 85 feet above the ground. A crane was used to place the machine and coils at the top of the training center. Image courtesy of Nelson Bros. Inc.

Grueling work

"This definitely wasn't just another project," Mitoraj said. But when the logistics were all figured out and the technicians got going, "it was another day at work."

But those days were six a week for 10 to 12 hours during hot summer months. When workers weren't dealing with sweltering temperatures, they were contending with high wind speeds. This was especially daunting for the worker operating the fabrication machine at the roof's peak.

The height and the slope of the roof was another concern. Workers guiding the panels needed to be safely secured and harnessed when using aerial lifts.

"The biggest safety issue was trying to work with the other companies," said Mitoraj. Nelson Bros. had to safely operate the crane and lift coils on the roof with others working on the ground.

After the 105,000-square foot job was completed, and workers put an end to their long, hot days, Mitoraj said that Nelson Bros. couldn't have been more pleased with the outcome.

"We are 100 percent happy with it," he said. "It's probably the best project we'll ever do."

For reprints of this article, contact Jill DeVries at (248) 244-1726 or e-mail devriesj@bnpmedia.com.