Rock Port celebrates
If you want to talk to happy, excited people, just call or visit Rock Port, Missouri. This mainly agricultural community, populated by only 1500 and located a short eight miles from the great Missouri River, recently completed a new, dome Technology Center for its school.
Gary Arthaud, superintendent of Rock Port School, ranks as one of the Tech Center’s most enthusiastic supporters. Arthaud said, “Rock Port only has one school; it serves grades Kindergarten through Twelve. Our original building was built in 1922, and it’s in good shape, but to provide our students with the kind of educational opportunities we want for them, we needed more space.”
The new Tech Center certainly does that. Its single floor design of 14,500 square feet includes seven labs, classrooms and a library for its 423 students and forty-five teachers.
Of all the Tech Center’s unique features, the library almost immediately draws appreciative ohs and ahs from visitors. “And the kids love it too,” Arthaud said. “It’s thirty feet to the ceiling – makes the students feel like they’re in college. The library’s $20,000 skylight is not just plastic, but something to be proud of.”
Asked how or why the community became interested in a dome for its addition, Arthaud said, "Someone just casually mentioned it to me. Something like you should look at a dome was said, and it just stayed in the back of my mind. Then, when our Board of Education really got serious about building a Technology Center, we decided to consider a dome, so we traveled to Emmett, Idaho to see one.
“Frankly, our initial reaction was not positive,” Arthaud continued. "When we saw the Emmett School just from the outside, we laughed. One of our group snickered and made some off-color remark that prompted more laughter.
“But that was from the outside,” Arthaud insisted. “Once we walked in, we each experienced a 180-degree attitude adjustment. We could immediately see the advantages and the possibilities, and we got serious. We wanted a dome.”
But initial input from an architectural firm soon dampened their enthusiasm. Arthaud said that the cost for the dome Rock Port wanted exceeded their cost expectations, and the architects they were then talking with were against their plan.
“We then checked into costs for a traditional building of a similar size,” Arthaud said. “Surprise, surprise! The traditional was every bit as much as a dome, but the traditional would not give us all we wanted.”
That information rekindled Rock Port’s dome enthusiasm. “We took our dream and our plan to a new architectural firm,” Arthaud said. “They got as excited as we were. So-away we go!”
The cost of constructing the Tech Center, including all its enhancements, averages sixty-two dollars per square foot. As for on-going operating costs, Rock Port already knows that they will be far less than those of a conventional building.
Cold spell – but not in the dome!
Arthaud recalled a stretch of fifteen degree weather that Rock Port experienced – without a furnace. It was soon after the school began using its new dome in early November 1997. He said, “It was cold – somewhere between ten to twenty degrees above zero for several days. We thought we were going to have to shut down because the old building was freezing, but not the dome.”
That surprised some and delighted everyone, particularly since the dome has no heating system of its own. “We never put one in,” Arthaud said. “We put a new boiler into the old building, and hooked the new building to it. But, during this cold spell, that heating system went out, so both buildings were without heat.”
Despite the weather and no heat coming in, people entering the Tech Center in the morning found its interior temperature to be a relatively comfortable sixty-two degrees. By the end of the school day, it would climb to sixty-eight degrees, even though its fresh air system continued pumping cold air into the dome.
Result: thoughts of closing due to the cold were quickly abandoned – to the disappointment of the students and the delight of administration.
“This cold spell,” Arthaud said, “showed us just how energy-efficient this new building is.” He thinks the decision not to install a heating system into their Monolithic Dome was right.
Affordability, acceptability and pride
Concerning operating costs, Rock Port was again pleasantly surprised when the insurance bill came in. Arthaud said, “Our entire facility is valued at 1.3 million. I was so happy, I jumped when the insurance increase came in at only $1300. That included a regular hike in the premium, coverage for new buses, and coverage for the Tech Center. We don’t know how much of that increase can be directly attributed to the dome, but that portion has got to be small. The insurance people said that the materials used in the dome were so fire-proof, they did not quite know how to price its coverage.”
An overwhelming majority of visitors to the Tech Center leave favorably impressed. Arthaud said, “Well, I’m sure there will be some who just won’t like it – for whatever reason. But so far, I have not heard one negative comment.”
Students, staff and visitors find the dome’s interior pleasing to their senses. Although the Tech Center sports only two windows – one in a biology lab and the other in a high school science room – this absence of windows has not been a problem. “No one even notices,” Arthaud said. “Concerning windows, we had only one problem,” he recalled. “Amazingly, in this small community, two of our teachers have a skin condition that requires sunlight. We equipped their classrooms with a full spectrum of lighting that provides for this personal need. As an old saying of ours goes, ’They’re as happy as pigs in the mud.’”
Proper lighting throughout the dome was of prime concern. Thus, the science labs were furnished with lighting that eliminates glare, while the library received indirect lighting most suited to reading and study.
Acoustics received its share of attention as well. Arthaud said that they have virtually no problem with noise. “We are happy with the acoustics. The library’s ceiling is double-layered and contoured to the skylight, and our fresh air system is set at a perfect hum.”
Students using the library have found that they can hear other people’s conversations, but they really have to listen for them.
Soft, warm hues of grays and tans and lots of live plants also contribute to the dome’s interior aesthetics. Many people shared ideas for the interior design, including the architect who wanted the dome’s interior wall left in its basic gray. “But,” Arthaud said, “we thought that was too drab. So we painted it a warmer, more delicate gray that works really well with our lighting and gives the wall a smoother, more finished texture.”
The additional storage space that a dome shape provides pleases most dome builders, and Rock Port is no exception. Its Tech Center uses the outer wall for book shelves and storage.
Convenience and accessibility are another plus. Arthaud said, “A traditional school building has four hallways; that’s a lot of square footage, used mainly for walking from one area to another. We have one hallway circling our dome; it gives us easy access to every area. That makes it a snap to get from the Junior High to the High School.”
Prospective school builders from various parts of the country continue visiting Rock Port’s Tech Center. Arthaud said, “Some came when we first began. They saw a lot of steel and witnessed the inflating. Most were favorably impressed.”
School officials from Pattonsburg, MO, who were planning to build a dome school, were among the early visitors and the favorably impressed. They are currently building their own, four dome school which will be completed this fall.
Arthaud said, “I remember our initial reaction to just the outside of a dome, so I tell our visitors not to judge by the exterior. That can easily be enhanced with landscaping. I tell them to look at the inside and what a dome can provide because that can’t be beat.”
Arthaud remains convinced that if you don’t use a dome you are throwing your money away. He added, “The members of our Board are conservative Midwesterners. They know a good deal when they see it.”
Cutting edge technology
Yet, neither cost efficiency nor aesthetics or convenience rank as Rock Port’s primary reason for wanting a dome for its new Technology Center. “Here’s our bottom line,” Arthaud said. "The best thing about our new Tech Center is that it’s giving our students what we want them to get – a hands-on opportunity to experience what is out there in the real world. I’m not just talking about the gifted student or the without-a-doubt-going-to-college student. I’m talking about the average student-every student.
“We may be a small community, but we’re really into educational progress,” he continued. “In our Tech Center’s twelve modules, our students can actually work with computers, lasers, flight simulators — much of what today’s technology offers. Right now, while they are still in school, our kids can get a real feel for the jobs that are out there -check into a field that interests them.”
Note: This article was first published in 1999. Quoted prices are from that time period.