Feel at home in the dome!
For a stranger to Gainesville, Texas, a semi-rural town of about 16,500 people, the Whaley United Methodist Church and its Monolithic Dome multipurpose center is a little hard to find. But just ask almost any resident and he or she will tell you exactly where “the dome” is. That’s because, since it’s completion in 2005, this Monolithic Dome is used, not only by the church, but by the community.
Stephanie Stogdill, office administrator, puts it this way: “We just refer to it as the dome. Everybody in the community does. In fact, we have a slogan: Feel at home in the dome. It is truly a multipurpose building that’s used by the entire community.”
Whaley Church has a history that dates back to 1887 and includes several major enlarging projects. In 2000, the church received a land donation that led to two such projects: the design of a 0.5 mile prayer path that provides the community with a safe place to walk and meditate; the construction of a Monolithic Dome as a community center.
Built on a 14-foot stemwall, the dome has a diameter of 108 feet and an overall height of 37 feet. Besides bathrooms, showers and storage areas, the dome’s interior has: a kitchen with a serving area for everything from church lunches and dinners to fun birthday parties with bounce houses and very formal wedding receptions; a foyer with bistro tables that serves coffee and pastries on Sunday mornings and raises funds for the children’s ministry; two rooms with activities for junior and senior high schoolers; a mezzanine with game tables; a stage used for musical and dramatic presentations (Our Town is currently in rehearsal.) and by a jazz band for Sunday’s contemporary service; an area with riding toys for little folk; and a regulation-size court for the Nothing But Nets basketball tournament that buys bed nets needed in Africa to prevent deadly Malaria.
On an almost daily basis, Whaley’s dome is used by some church group or community organization. It hosts activities for youngsters from six different school districts. Cooke County’s Boys and Girls Club uses the dome every Saturday for its basketball program.
According to Stephanie, the most unique event held in the dome to date was a Mutual of Omaha Wild Kingdom presentation arranged by the Zoological Society for the community. She said, “Because of the way the dome is set up, we can have live animals and we do that for our Christmas Pageants too.”
Shelter in a storm
“But,” said Stephanie, “what I’m the most proud of is the fact that, in the 2007 flood, we were able to be a shelter for about 150 people who lost their homes and the volunteers who came to help.”
On June 18, 2007 torrential rains and high winds that killed six people began pelting areas of North Texas. Gainesville was one of the hardest hit.
MSNBC reported, “In Gainesville, aerial video showed families awaiting rescue on their roofs, some having hacked their way to the outside from their attics. Some were joined by their dogs. Three mobile homes were washed out of the park. At one point, about 450 displaced residents had sought refuge at two temporary shelters.”
Whaley’s dome, that had been certified as an official community shelter by the American Red Cross, became one of the two.
Stephanie said, “We sheltered about 150 refugees for about two weeks. Most would sleep and eat here but leave for work during the day. We put single males up on the mezzanine and families on the dome floor. We also had volunteers from all over the nation that we sheltered in another part of the building.”
A community effort
“But we didn’t do this singlehandedly,” Stephanie continued. “The Texas Baptist Men brought in portable showers that we parked right outside. And they brought in their cooking facilities and prepared the meals that we served. The Red Cross provided the bedding.”
They include the City of Gainesville installing wiring so the dome can use a generator in case of power failure. Obviously, Whaley United Methodist Church intends to continue using its Monolithic Dome multipurpose center from everything from fun and games to comfort and safety.
October 22, 2009