It serves more than food!
Dale, Oklahoma is a very small community 30 miles east of Oklahoma City. It doesn’t include many people nor much land area. But thanks to Frank Dale, the legendary territorial chief justice that it’s named after, since about 1893 Dale has had somewhat of an eyebrow-raising history.
But now Dale has yet another, surprising feature: their Monolithic Dome school cafeteria that produces and serves meals to its 726 students in grades kindergarten through 12 AND is a tornado-safe shelter.
School Superintendent Charles Dickinson said, “It’s a structure that’s so unique in this area. Everybody is in awe of what it looks like and how big it is (diameter 109’). People walk inside, they see it from the inside, and they’re just amazed. It’s just a WOW factor.”
In 2010, Charles and the school board decided that the school needed a new cafeteria and began planning a bond issue. “Our cafeteria was very outdated,” Charles said. “It was much too small for our student population. At the time that cafeteria was built, in about 1979 or ’80, we had about 500 students max. We have many more now. So we got with Michael McCoy, the architect we had used on several projects before and that we liked.”
Because Dale ISD’s structures consisted of a brick and mortar building for the high school and metal buildings for the elementary and middle schools, Michael first designed a metal building for the cafeteria.
As Charles recalls, he and Michael then had a conversation that went much like this:
Michael: What are we missing? Do you need anything else?
Charles: Michael, here’s the thing. If we had a tornado, we’ve got nothing. Our kids are in danger. We’ve never had anything here that would be safe. I’ve heard of other schools in the state that are building safe rooms.
Michael: Charlie, we don’t have the money for that. But have you ever thought about a dome? If you will give me a couple of weeks, I’d like to do some research.
A short time later, Michael presented a new design. Charles said, "He laid out the dome plan and I was in – I mean immediately! I saw it as wonderful. I started doing a little research on other Monolithic Domes in Oklahoma and found that everything was pretty positive and that solved a lot of problems for us.
“We went from a cafeteria that seated about a hundred to a cafeteria that seats 225. For our special programs – band concerts, award presentations, etc. – we can seat 800.
“Here’s the best part. This is a very small community. If we had a tornado, all 700 of our kids, all 75 of our staff could be extremely comfortable and safe in there. We could hold a spillover of 400 or 500 community members if we had to.
“So that dome is just a blessing to this community. It’s a wonderful building.”
Passing the bond issue was not a problem; it passed by about 70%. And voters knew they were approving a plan for a dome. Charles said, “Most people saw it as a no-brainer. To every parent, every grandparent in the district, a cafeteria that was also a disaster shelter made perfect sense. We got nothing negative about it.”
The design, by Michael McCoy Architects of Midwest City, Oklahoma, incorporates special, tornado-resistant features.
Asked if the dome’s six windows are tornado-resistant, Michael said, “That is a question without an answer, and I will tell you why. We used an impact-resistant glazing system that is secured to the concrete block. We have impact-resistant glass inside the framing system. Over the front of the windows, we have steel tubes that span from concrete block to concrete block. Over the face of that, we have 11-gauge galvanized steel sheets, so it is set up to provide a level of protection for those windows. However, it is not FEMA tested nor approved, but you can list them as wind-and-impact-resistant. We’ve done a good job of protecting the windows, and we’ve given the school the natural light it wants to come into the cafeteria.”
The doors are FEMA approved to resist wind.
Start to finish
On February 1, 2011 a crew from South Industries of Menan, ID began work on Dale’s Monolithic Dome cafeteria/disaster shelter. Charles said, "We were very excited. The entire process was just wonderful. I’ve built a couple of buildings before, and this one went amazingly smoothly. We had absolutely great people to work with. The crew from South Industries was amazing – wonderful people that you would like to take to dinner and sit down and visit with. The subcontractors they hired were extremely professional.
“For construction management, we used Lippert Brothers of Oklahoma City and they were great to work with. We never had a bad incident at all.”
On January 9, 2012 the cafeteria served its first meal.
Three months later, it became a tornado shelter when Dale got a tornado threat. Charles said, "It was after school so the kids had gone home. But at about 4:30 p.m. our first guest arrived, prepared to stay in the dome. Then 82 others showed up – some with pets. The pets were an unanticipated development. Based on health regulations that govern buildings were food is served, we had to install a no-pet rule and only allow service animals. Fortunately, we did not get hit, but we were ready.
“Our dome is equipped with cable TV and wireless Internet. People will be able to stay in touch during a storm.”
Superintendent’s Newsletter of February 2012
“I hope everyone is enjoying the great weather we have been having! We held an Open House for the new cafeteria on January 8, 2012. There were over 250 people that were able to come by, have some refreshments, and take a look at what has to be one of the nicest cafeterias around! If you weren’t able to attend, please feel free to stop by and see the new building. It is equipped with all new, state-of-the-art, stainless steel appliances and we have doubled the number of seats available for the kids. Also, keep in mind that tornado season is swiftly approaching. The cafeteria was built to withstand an F5 tornado. Provisions will be made to have the facility open in case of inclement weather!
“The Cafeteria is running smoothly! The cooks are learning new ways to cook and prepare the food, the kids love the new atmosphere, and with that combination we are serving more meals and getting more participation in the lunchroom. Of course with anything new there is a learning curve. The cafeteria is now a little further from some of the classrooms, and therefore may be taking some students longer to get there. With more breakfast participation among high school students, we have been concerned whether they have enough time to eat. The administration is monitoring the situation and will make adjustments if necessary. All things said it has been a relatively smooth transition! If you see any of our cafeteria staff please be sure to brag on them!!”