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A giant glass castle is taking shape as the new home of the Minnesota Vikings. Featured prominently throughout the $1 billion stadium will be glass manufactured in Steele County. 
Within the past few months, glass panels for the stadium began rolling off the production lines at Viracon’s sprawling factory in Owatonna. Glass will continue to be made, off and on, until October or November. 
While workers are thrilled to be involved in the largest sports complex to ever be erected in Minnesota, they’re taking it all in stride and realize it’s just another day of work.
“This is just what we do every day,” said Seth Madole, director of customer service, as he led a tour around Viracon’s plant. “We have 27 to 30 projects in the works at one time,” he said. 
The Vikings project is expected to generate less than $5 million in revenue for Viracon. The company was on pace to grow 12 percent to $930 million for the fiscal 2015 year that ended in March. 
While the Vikings stadium may not be a record project for Viracon, it’s a “nice, big, high-profile project and it’s in our backyard,” company officials have said. 
Viracon, which was founded in Owatonna in 1970 and has become the top glass fabricator in the country, will have a huge influence on the new Vikings stadium, as 190,000 square feet of the 500,000-square-foot complex will be covered with glass. The glassmaker will supply 10,000 glass panels over the next eight months. By the end, about 40 truckloads will have made the trip from Owatonna to downtown Minneapolis with the glass securely wrapped up. 
Said Madole: “The stadium has a ton of glass.”
The steeply pitched roof will let natural light stream in, making the covered, glass-centric stadium seem more like it’s outside. The covering will be the world’s largest transparent roof.
The glass going into the stadium isn’t just any ordinary glass. Viracon is providing high-performance insulated glass panels. They are 5 feet by 9 feet and weigh approximately 160 pounds each. 
Each panel will consist of two pieces of glass separated by a dehydrated air space, according to Garret Henson, Viracon’s vice president of sales. One surface will be a solar controlled coating, while the other piece will be heat-treated glass, he noted.
 “The glass combines not only performance, but the ascetics wanted,” Madole said, adding Viracon hopes the glass will also promote occupant comfort. 
One of the prominent features of the stadium that excites Viracon is the huge glass doors leading into the complex. “The massive operating doors will allow more of a feel of openness and that everyone is interactive with what’s going on,” Madole said. 
Madole said Viracon is using a transparent glass that “allows people to be more engaged with what is happening in the building.” He added that people would be able to see fans from outside of the stadium.
The process of getting the glass ready for shipment to the stadium takes about three weeks on Viracon’s production floor. Workers begin the process with 120-by-204-inch glass sheets. They are cut to size, washed, heat treated at 1,200 degrees, cooled down and coated. 
Viracon, Madole said, is the only place in North American that coats its glass products. 
As for the special heat treatment, it makes the glass stronger, according to Madole.
He estimated that 150 of Viracon’s 1,500 employees would have had a hand in the glass production for the Vikings stadium. 
Excitement has been building across Viracon since a design team began working with architects about two years ago on the stadium project. Once the glass began rolling off the factory lines in February, there has been an even greater sense of purple pride overtaking the plant.
In fact, Viracon made Vikings T-shirts commemorating the company’s involvement for all of its employees. It’s the second time in company history where that has happened.
What’s adding to the excitement for Viracon is that employees will see the finished product close by once the stadium is complete. “It’s rare that we get to see the end result of what we do because of the widespread nature of our projects,” Madole said, noting most of the company’s biggest projects are spread out across the country. 
“This is exciting for the employees because it gives us an opportunity to show our families what we do,” Madole said. “We take pride in the fact that our work is going 60 miles up the road.”
Added Henson: “Emotionally, this is quite important because this is our home state. Any time you can be a part of something in your own community and watch it go up from beginning to end and have your employees be able to get there rather easily is super important to us.”
Owatonna Mayor Thomas Kuntz shares in the excitement of Viracon’s touchdown with landing the stadium contract. 
“We couldn’t be more proud to have Owatonna represented in the new stadium,” Kuntz said. “The glass is what makes the stadium so attractive and that attractiveness comes from the Owatonna community.”
Some of the other major projects Viracon has supplied glass for include Freedom Tower, also known as World Trade Center Tower One, in New York, City Center in Las Vegas and Willshire Grand, which will be the tallest building on the West Coast in California. 
Viracon has also been involved in other sports projects, including stadiums for the Dallas Cowboys, San Francisco 49ers and Miami Dolphins.
New projects call for Viracon glass in the new stadium in Atlanta, the Mall of America addition in Bloomington and the new Wells Fargo towers rising next to the Vikings stadium.
Madole said the design of buildings within the past five years has pushed toward more glass architecture. “There is a push from the design trend to increase the amount of glass in a building,” he said. 
About 15 percent of Viracon’s work is international, according to Madole.
The increasing demand for glass led Viracon to expand its Owatonna facility last year with a $40 million addition. Viracon received help with the project from the state and city of Owatonna. The new factory includes a state-of-the-art machine that applies energy-efficient solar-coating to the glass so it can block UV and infrared rays and keep a structure cool. 
Mayor Kuntz is thrilled that Viracon made the additional investment into Owatonna. “We were fortunate enough to get the coater (machine) to come to Owatonna,” he said, adding that Viracon had also considered a couple of other locations for its expansion. 
Viracon is the largest employer in Steele County with about 1,500 workers.
The new Vikings stadium is slated to open for the 2016 season, and Minnesota has been awarded the Super Bowl in 2018. 
“We’re excited to be a part of it,” Madole said. “It means a lot to us because of the local nature.”

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