MINNEAPOLIS –When Lesley Singer looks up at the sleek, glass west wall of U.S. Bank Stadium, she sees a reflection of Minneapolis landmarks and a glimpse of herself.
"I know I was a big part of that," Singer said as construction of the 1.75-million-square-foot venue neared completion.
The prow of the stadium is 270 feet above street level, but Singer knows the importance of less striking features.
It's come a long way since Singer arrived at the downtown construction site in December 2013 and felt a bit skeptical.
"I got there, and there was a little hole in the ground – that was it," Singer said. "We had a trailer that fit about six people, and that's all we had."
A stone's throw from the fading Metrodome, she and five other Mortenson Construction employees stood together on packed dirt that would become the foundation for U.S. Bank Stadium.
"Day by day, you see a little bit more happen," Singer said less than three years later, just weeks from the stadium's grand opening. "The excitement builds as you go through it. It's been awesome.
"It's fun to see what comes out of the ground to form this beautiful building," Singer added.
Singer did not always foresee ending up in the construction business. It was after 17 years in food service that she and her late husband – who also worked in construction – discussed a possible career change. Less than a week later, after an odd combination of events, Singer found herself making quite the career change.
"I wouldn't say food service and construction are night-and-day different," Singer said. I like to think I'm a patient person, and you have to be patient [in both careers].
Seven years after making the career switch, Singer joined Mortenson Construction. Her first project? Target Field, the new Minnesota Twins stadium.
"I wasn't quite there from the beginning to the end, but it was still fun to be there and see everything happen," Singer said. "When it got close to knowing that [Mortenson] was going to get U.S. Bank Stadium, my boss told me, 'Les, you're coming with me.' "
As a labor foreman, Singer wore many different hats on any given day.
She arrived Monday through Friday at the construction site by 6 a.m. to make sure all applicable entrances were unlocked for main employees, followed immediately by a POD – Point of the Day – meeting in which Project Superintendent Dave Mansell went over the day's agenda: tasks on each floor, goings on of the day and any special projects or assignments that needed to be completed.
From organizing employees in extra cleaning assignments to supervising the dumpsters (delivery and emptying) on the loading dock, to participating in safety lunches and working with new security command, each day offered Singer a new gamut of activity.
The number of employees that Singer and her co-foreman, Jason Wagoner, supervised also fluctuated month to month, depending on the point of construction, from 10 to peaking around 30 in the winter of 2015-16.
"Jason and I just sort of split the tasks between the two of us because it [was] too much for one person," Singer said. "That stadium is just too big."
View aerial images updated from both the northeast corner and then the southwest corner, showcasing the progress at U.S. Bank Stadium. Updated from late June of 2016.
Braving the elements
As one might imagine, one of the biggest challenges to building a state-of-the-art stadium in the heart of Minnesota is the weather. Singer explained that, with a structure of this scale and the precise deadlines, "things just have to get done."
Whether it was snow, rain, hail or sub-zero temperatures, work on U.S. Bank Stadium persevered.
"Unless it's extreme [weather], you plan for it," Singer said. "If you know the weather's going to be 20-below, you bring in another heater. You do what you need to do."
Singer knows better than anyone, however, that the Minnesota climate throws curveballs that even the biggest planners aren't prepared for. In the 31 months she's been working on the stadium, the biggest obstacle facing Singer came at the hands of a good ol' Minnesota snowstorm. The November 2014 storm dumped considerably more snow overnight than anticipated, and none of the decks had been covered in advance.
Rebar that had been placed in the decks to hold the concrete in tension made snow removal even more difficult, and it became a two-week project.
"At the same time, it had gotten so cold so quickly that we needed to bring heaters into the building and get poly enclosures set up so that we could heat spaces," Singer said. "You can't pour concrete without the heat."
In the midst of the cleanup, Singer was asked to take charge of the entire project.
"It was a challenging few weeks, but rewarding at the end of it," Singer said. "Now I think back and think, 'How did I ever do that?' "
Truly Minnesotan, Singer's tenacity and blue-collar work ethic have been reflected throughout her construction career, and she's proud to have now been a part of the Vikings legacy. She and her fiancé – a fellow construction worker she met during the building process – hope to attend a game together in the finished stadium this season.
"That's probably another one of the great moments of being here," Singer said, smiling. "I met my future husband while working at the stadium."
From the ground up
Shortly after the passage of stadium legislation in 2012 and the ensuing formation of the MSFA, the stadium team incorporated the City of Minneapolis and the Minnesota Department of Human Rights workforce goals (for projects funded by public money) at six percent for women and 32 percent for minorities. The project surpassed that number, with women comprising nine percent of the workforce and minorities making up 36 percent.
Singer is one of 494 female construction workers who have had their hands in constructing the Vikings new home. According to the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority report, female employees accounted for 330,500 of more than 3.6 million total hours worked through May 2016.
Targeted business goals — expressed as a percentage of the overall dollar amount of the project — of 11 percent women-owned businesses for construction also were established, and the number reached 16 percent.
Association of Women Contractors Executive Director Barb Lau said the number of women-owned businesses (such as Elevator Advisory Group and Reiling Construction) experiencing major growth due to their involvement with U.S. Bank Stadium speaks to the project's historic workforce inclusion.
"These are success stories," Lau said. "I get so passionate about this.
"I've been doing this eight years, and to see the successes we've seen on a project that big has been so exciting for me," she added.
Lau said the biggest challenge in the workforce is being able to break through the barrier of preferred contractors. For local, smaller-business owners, it may require a leap of faith by the hirer to veer from the well-traveled path.
"It seems to be harder as a woman, because oftentimes we're fighting this perception that the woman isn't the business owner – it's the father or brother or husband – and the woman is in name only," Lau said. "But women are starting their own businesses today and going into construction.
"They're competing with other companies that have been in the industry for a long time, so they need to get people to take a chance on them," Lau added. "That has happened a number of times with this stadium."
While Singer has 15 years of experience under her belt, not all are in the same boat. Some of her female co-workers received their first opportunities in construction at U.S. Bank Stadium through Women Building Minnesota, a registered apprenticeship program that provides entry-level training in the specialty construction trades such as plumbing, pipe-fitting, electrical, iron working and so on.
WBM Director Vicki Sandberg said the program placed approximately 13 women directly into the stadium project at the outset. Most are still working on site or have transitioned from Women Building Minnesota into single-craft union programs.
"That's really the endgame of WBM," Sandberg said. "To allow people to gain some work experience and establish a track record for themselves as reliable employees.
"U.S. Bank Stadium was a great project," Sandberg added. "It allowed for a lot of opportunities for people who maybe didn't even think of construction as a career choice. A lot of women who were working in daycare or who were underemployed – single moms, married moms, all different kinds of women. It really provided them with an opportunity to try something that they thought they could be good at but didn't have the opportunity to really make that leap into a career in construction."
Whether their experience level was 15 weeks or 15 years, every woman who worked on the construction site can say she's had a hand in a very special project. Some of them, like Singer, have been there from day one and continue to marvel at the transformation.
While it seems impossible to identify a favorite aspect of the stadium, Singer said she's especially excited for a few of the completed suites to be revealed. She described the beautiful stonework of two large fireplaces in the Medtronic Club and the unique, fan-centric atmosphere of Mystic Lake's Club Purple.
"It will just be such a great experience for fans," Singer said.