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Published: Friday, 4/5/2013 - Updated: 1 year ago

New roller coaster on fast track for Sandusky-bound thrill seekers

Cedar Point says $26M GateKeeper to be ready opening day

BY JON CHAVEZ
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
The new GateKeeper roller coaster undergoes a test run Friday at Cedar Point.  It expected to be ready for the park's first day, May 11. The new GateKeeper roller coaster undergoes a test run Friday at Cedar Point. It expected to be ready for the park's first day, May 11.
CEDAR POINT Enlarge

With just more than a month before Cedar Point opens for the season, construction of the Sandusky amusement park’s signature ride for this year, the $26 million GateKeeper roller coaster, is ahead of schedule and wowing its builders, which includes a Toledo-area contractor.

“I think we’re ahead of schedule,” said August “Augie” Lococo, project manager for GateKeeper and corporate maintenance and compliance director for Cedar Fair LP, the Sandusky-based owner of Cedar Point, 10 other amusement parks, and five water parks.

Cedar Point will open May 11, and Mr. Lococo said GateKeeper will be ready to thrill opening-day crowds.

“The trains ran [Thursday] for the first time, and they ran really well. We’ll be running them eight hours a day, seven days a week for the next four weeks,” Mr. Lococo added. “From a safety standpoint, we want to check all the safety devices, and we’ll be on the lookout for 600 faults that could happen and try to simulate them on our tests.”

Announced in August, the GateKeeper is a “winged” roller coaster and Cedar Point’s first new coaster since the Maverick in 2007. Designed to zip along at 67 mph, the GateKeeper has cars that hang out on the sides of the coaster’s track to give a rider the feel of sitting on the wing of an airplane.

Swiss-based Bolliger & Mabillard Consulting Engineers designed the ride to have a 170-foot-tall lift hill and a track extending 4,164 feet. But the coaster’s unique feature, which provides its name, is a section that arches through the “keyhole” of two towers that have been constructed over the park’s admission gate.

Customers entering the park will get an immediate and breathtaking view of the new signature ride, which Cedar Point officials believe will lead to record crowds this year.

General contractor A.A. Boos & Sons Inc., on Pickle Road in Oregon, helped build the GateKeeper — and it was no easy task, said Scott Hayes, the contractor’s vice president of business development.

“It was a complicated job. It was difficult because there’s a lot of track and a very tight space. Just the very nature of how they wanted to work the roller coaster so that it’s a part of the facility made it a very tight fit,” Mr. Hayes said.

A.A. Boos, which has had a construction crew on the site since September, did all the excavation, foundation work, pavement work, and all the anchor bolts holding down the GateKeeper. Workers persevered through cold and windy conditions, but those weren’t the toughest parts.

“This one was especially difficult because there was a lot of stuff to figure out once we got going. The soil conditions — what we found was we couldn’t go very deep into the ground because you’re basically on a sand island in that part of the park,” Mr. Hayes said. “Creating the footers meant a lot of survey work, marking and setting the tolerances that were very minute.”

But Mr. Hayes said the project turned out to be some of the company’s best work. “I would be the first one to ride [the GateKeeper]. I would be very confident in the engineering,” he said.

Mr. Lococo said Cedar Point workers will run more tests in the next few weeks, including placing water-filled dummies in the seats to simulate people, then it will move onto testing with actual people. The first to ride will be engineers from Bolliger & Mabillard, then Cedar Point maintenance workers.

“When we’re on it, we’re feeling it, we’re listening to it, we’re trying to ride it like a guest rides it,” Mr. Lococo said.

Near the end of April, state inspectors will run safety tests and decide whether to certify the ride.

When Cedar Point testers get on GateKeeper, they’ll be looking for a several things, said Mr. Lococo, who worked 20 years for Six Flags Inc. before joining Cedar Fair three years ago.

“We’re confident now and it’s already a live ride as of today. But we’ll look for how the shoulder harnesses fit, we’ll look and see if we can lift our arms up because we know people like to do that, and we’ll notice how does the seat fit while you’re upside-down,” Mr. Lococo said.

Park officials also will seek a variety of in-house riders to try GateKeeper because “when your guests get on it, we know we will get all kinds of sizes — small kids and large adults,” Mr. Lococo said.

Cedar Point has fitted a train with a “rider envelope” and sent it down the track. The device measures the distance cars are from objects on the ride that could present rider hazards. The maximum height of a rider on the GateKeeper will be limited to 6-foot-6, park officials said.

Engineers also will use an accelerometer — equipment that measures G-forces and stresses put on riders. “This thing is so big, it looks like it’s moving slowly but it really isn’t,” Mr. Lococo said. “When we first ran it, it was wild seeing it going through those keyholes. But they fit right through.

“It doesn’t look like it’s going to fit through it, but we put our clearance envelope on it and it fit just fine,” he added.

Overall, GateKeeper construction has been smooth, Mr. Lococo said. “B&M, they’re the best in the industry. When you get a B&M ride, they fit together real nice and you never have any issues. Other manufacturers — you have problems and you usually end up having to fabricate [more steel]. But B&M, they’re the Cadillac of the industry.

“There’s no doubt we’re going to be ready on time, and we’re probably going to be ready 10 or 11 days before our opening,” Mr. Lococo said.

Contact Jon Chavez at: jchavez@theblade.com or 419-724-6128.



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