SAINT PAUL, Minn. – On a Tuesday evening in March, one of the Minnesota State Fair’s oldest and most iconic buildings partially collapsed under the weight of heavy snow. Now, approximately five months later, the cattle barn is almost completely repaired and restored, and it will be ready for guests and exhibitors by the time of the Fair.
“It's a hundred years old, construction was in 1919 and they finished it off in 1920,” said Jerry Hammer, general manager with the State Fair. “They did some very cool things that when you see it all the time, you don't have the same understanding of what it is until a big chunk of it goes down.”
The cattle barn is a huge building, 117,450 square feet. Hammer estimates that only about 20 percent of the building was damaged by the collapse, but repairing a building with that much history is never easy and the crews were working on a short timeline.
“When the roof went, that part of the roof, it pulled the wall in with it, so all of that needed to be redone,” said Hammer. “Building materials today are not at all the same as they were a hundred years ago.”
The steel beams, for example, will have a different chemical composition than that of new steel. It becomes a question of can the two different types be welded and joined together, and whether or not that will that work and hold.
Despite the tight schedule to get repairs done and the importance of having the barn ready by fair time, the goal was always to restore the building. They could not just repair it quick with new parts and leave a noticeable difference in the barn.
Many of the replacement parts had to be fabricated and custom made.
“The brick for the wall that got pulled in with the roof, they don't make bricks same size, nor are they the same color as they were a hundred years ago,” he said.
Fortunately, the way the wall came down, much of the brick was still usable. They were able to clean it up and put it back on the wall, saving both time and money while keeping the original look to the barn.
The roof itself was more of a challenge to keep original.
“The roof is held up by these structural steel pieces and the roof itself is a preformed concrete they used to call ‘federal tile.’ They're not planks, they're a lot bigger than that. They have to be 3 feet across, 10-12 feet long and they're slotted so they can slide in together,” he said.
While a common building material in 1919, federal tile like this does not exist anymore. It all had to be custom made to fit this project.
The windows were also custom orders.
“The turnaround time when you order windows is long. There aren't a lot of people around the country that can do them,” he said. “The manufacturers have done really nice work on our behalf, getting things turned around quickly and it appears the windows will be here in time.”
As of the middle of July, the brick work on the wall was done, the structural steel was in place and the custom-made federal tile was installed on the roof. The scaffolding was already coming down.
There was still water proofing and flashing to do on the roof, but the barn will be ready to hold cattle by fair time.
With all the custom work and reused original brick, the repairs fit seamlessly into the building.
“A lot of it will feel newer, even though it's the same design and everything. Except for the brick work, it’s literally new material in there,” said Hammer.
Some of the cattle stalls have also been replaced and fresh paint has gone up.
The next stage of this project, to begin next year, will be to update the electrical system in the barn to better accommodate the fans and other equipment exhibitors need to keep their animals comfortable and get them ready to show.