Monolithic Domes Earn Respect in Payson
At first, some residents of Payson, Arizona were skeptical about the presence of domed buildings in their community.
Today, less than a year since two Monolithic Dome sites were completed, a new attitude prevails. “Yes, it’s an unusual building,” said Sue Myers, “but teachers, parents and just about everyone who spends time inside these domes comes away with a positive impression.”
Myers is the principal at Frontier Elementary School, one of two dome projects recently built by Payson Unified School District.
The Frontier School resembles three giant upside down bowls. One dome serves as a combination gymnasium and music room. The other two domes each have 10 classrooms along their perimeters, which surround a library and cafeteria, respectively.
All three structures have their own skylight and are connected to a flat roofed building that houses the school office, restrooms, teachers’ prep area, a medical station and other rooms. The building is the only part of the school with windows, but teacher Deb Jones said that’s not a problem. “From the outside you see that there aren’t any windows, but from the inside you don’t notice it,” she said, adding, “And I’m a real window person.”
Myers said Jones’ reaction is common and attributes it to the atmosphere created by the Monolithic Domes.
The circular design within each dome and among the domes is much more cohesive than in traditional long, narrow buildings. The principal said, “I can personally be in any room in less than a minute. Plus, the closeness builds a sense of community and it’s easier to be collegial.”
Jones agreed that the circular classroom arrangement and spacious center areas encourage cooperation. “There’s a lot of joint teaching and shared resources,” she said. “This building is just made for it.”
Visitors seem to notice it, too.
When the school opened its doors last October, those who came to look around were impressed. “I really like the way everything is so open in the center,” said one mother as she looked at the skylight above her. “I remember always feeling cooped up in school, and you just don’t get that sensation in here.”
Another parent added, “I’m amazed that they fit so much in here without seeming crowded. It looks so different from outside, but inside it’s really neat.”
Comments like those were music to the ears of Payson School Board members and administrators, who were responsible for the construction of the town’s first domes.
“The bottom line was that the district was able to save about $1.6 million for the construction of an elementary school and a multipurpose facility, and that means more facilities for less money,” said Payson School District Superintendent Russ Kinzer.
The multipurpose facility was completed this spring and will be ready for use this summer or fall.
“Initially, it took a lot of courage for our governing board to strike out and do something that’s never been done here before,” the superintendent said. “But in retrospect, that decision will benefit the students and the community for years to come.”
Note: This article was originally printed in the Summer 1997 Roundup. Beth Kreider is a reporter for The Payson Roundup. She has reported on the domes from their inflation to their completion.