MOSCOW -- The two giant tower cranes that now flank the east end of the University of Idaho's Kibbie Dome are a sure harbinger of the coming spring construction season.
But for Moscow resident Richard Naskali -- UI emeritus botany professor and arboretum director -- the French-made Potain cranes are a real-life manifestation of the tinkerings of his youth.
"I'm not mechanically inclined, but I did have an erector set as a child," said Naskali, 74.
Naskali has developed an acute fascination with the cranes, which will play an integral role in the coming second phase of safety renovations to the dome. He said it started when he heard that the Libherr crane that serviced the dome's west-end construction project earlier this year was coming down.
"I spent the best part of a day watching," he said of gawking at the crane taking itself apart and lowering its pieces to the ground.
That project replaced the dome's aging and combustible plywood western wall with translucent fiberglass panels.
The $11 million east-end project will be similar, said UI Assistant Vice President for Facilities Brian Johnson. But crews will have to deal with the annex that adjoins that end of the dome, so two cranes were needed to provide sufficient reach.
Walsh Construction out of Portland, Ore., handled the west wall, and will be back to take care of the eastern phase, Johnson said.
"They're bringing a lot of lessons learned and a lot of good things done that put them in a good position to do well on this second phase," he said.
Technically speaking, construction has already started. In addition to the installation of the cranes, retaining walls and access points have been reconfigured to allow for the flow of heavy construction traffic.
After the football season ends and winter commencement exercises are done, crews will begin preliminary demolition, including the removal of the scoreboard that hangs on the eastern wall and the wiring and other infrastructure contained in the space between the inside and outside plywood panels, Johnson said.
Major demolition will begin in March. The wall replacement will run concurrently with a separate but related project to build a new press box and premium seating inside the dome. The end wall projects are paid through debt financing, and the interior project is being funded through donations, according to the university.
Both projects should be done by early August, Johnson said.
A lifelong photographer, Naskali has documented the balletic assembling and disassembling of the towering cranes, and their seemingly delicate structures.
Using his trusty Nikon D300 digital single-lens-reflex camera, he has hundreds upon hundreds of crane photos stored on his memory cards and hard drives.
Some of his most dramatic shots show workers high atop the cranes in precarious positions.
"I really admire these gutsy guys," Naskali said. "When you see them walking out there on the catwalk, dragging their cable and support system along. ... They're just really gutsy."
Mills may be contacted at jmillslmtribune.com or (208) 883-0564.
Tower crane facts: - More than 300 cubic yards of concrete in the crane foundations. - 31 truckloads of concrete delivered in one day to pour the foundations. - Each foundation is 25 feet square by almost 6 feet thick. - 24,000 pounds of reinforcing steel in each foundation. - The small crane is 234 feet tall and has a 232-foot-long lifting boom. - The large crane is 323 feet tall and has a 238-foot-long lifting boom. - The large crane is roughly twice the height of the Kibbie Dome. - The two cranes together can lift and place loads in an area covering more than five acres. - Cost to rent both cranes is $605,000, but total cost is close to $1 million when setup, foundations, erection, crane operators, security and deconstruction are included.
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