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Contractors continue to push to meet an early April deadline to have the Rimrock Auto Arena at MetraPark ready for its first event since a tornado in June.

Crews had been working 24 hours a day to adhere to the tight deadline until about three weeks ago, according to Scott Chartier of High Tech Construction, the general contractor.

Once the roof was completed and the building weather-tight, crews were able to go back to 40- and 50-hour work weeks.

“We are at a point where the schedule doesn't call for that in order to keep things on schedule,” Chartier said.

Scott Turner, county finance director, said the project is expected to cost around $30 million. Insurance is taking care of $23 million, as well as $1 million for cleanup. The county is chipping in about $5.3 million.

He said a number of the bids have come up cheaper than anticipated.

“Some of the estimates the architects originally had worked up, the actual bids came in less,” Turner said. “A couple were over, but most of them have been under as far as what I have understood.”

Chartier said the arena is about 25 percent complete. Crews spent Tuesday afternoon installing acoustic material on the ceiling — a process that Chartier said will be more effective and was considerably cheaper than originally estimated.

Chartier said the bid came in about $200,000 less than expected. Instead of using a spray-on material, workers were installing 2-inch-thick slabs of compressed insulation that are 8 feet long by 4 feet wide.

“It's faster and with a lot less mess,” Chartier said. “It was a real good solution not only economically, but for the schedule.”

Extra measures were also taken throughout the building to decrease low-frequency echo.

He said the new acoustic material will provide easier access to rigs when shows come to set up. Spray-on material would have to be chipped away in order to hang sets over the rigging, which would not be very pleasing visually.

There will be enough space to accommodate any show, especially now that the rigging system has been expanded.

“We can increase the capacity and the mobility and the usability of hanging for shows that come here,” Chartier said. “When the shows come in, a lot of them bring in their own video walls and own sound systems.

“As part of the upgrade to the facility, we are increasing the number of rigging points in the capacity so we can get some larger shows than we have been able to bring in the past.”

That rigging is scheduled to be first utilized by the Women of Faith event. Chartier said they needed access to the arena to set up by April 2 — a full 13 days before the original April 15 deadline.

But the arena is only part of the project. Work on the ticketing office has yet to begin. Chartier said it is still in the design stage.

The roof is nearly complete, with just the final edging left to do. Chartier said the major equipment for heating, ventilation and air conditioning has been installed.

The audio-visual system is out for bid, along with the elevator system. Chartier said he also expects design plans soon for new lighting in the arena.

While construction continues, the crew has used the arena's old lights, which surprisingly survived the tornado.

The seats weren't so durable. All 11,000 seats have been removed and are in the process of being refurbished. Chartier said some are getting cushioned backs put on them.

Those who return to the arena next year may notice the seating capacity has decreased slightly. Some seats were removed to make more room for handicapped-accessible areas.

“We are taking out a number of seats and will be providing not only seating for the handicapped, but seating for an attendant or family member along with the handicapped person,” Chartier said.

The number of restrooms will be increasing; two new bathrooms will be added inside the arena and another outside.

“The number of fixtures in here before was really inadequate for the size of venue,” Chartier said.

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Contact Chelsea Krotzer at ckrotzer@billingsgazette.com or 657-1392.

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