Opening Day Excitement: August 12, 2002
In the morning sunshine, approximately 500 students scrambled into the four new Monolithic Domes of Bishop Nevins Academy, a Catholic school in the Diocese of Venice in Sarasota, Florida. Most had seen the domes and even walked through them before. Many had attended ground-breaking ceremonies with their parents and had witnessed the inflation of the Airforms.
Nevertheless, excited shouts and ohs and ahs of wonder permeated the air. It was the first day of school — a school of unique round buildings.
The beginning: January 2000
Ray Haddad, Associate Director of the (Venice Diocese) Building Commission, described how it all came about. “Father Fausto Stampiglia, pastor and administrator of St. Martha School and Bishop Nevins Academy, vacations in Arizona and became friends with Architect Rick Crandall. Rick showed him Monolithic Dome schools in Arizona that he had designed. Consequently, when Fr. Fausto came back he presented these ideas to me and to the parish and to the school building committee.”
Haddad, a civil engineer with expertise in structural engineering and construction, said, “We took a hard look at it – a very hard look! At first, I was not too happy with the (dome) concept. I was worried about its applicability to Florida’s weather conditions. Both Arizona and Florida are hot, but one is dry while the other is wet. We had to be sure before we experimented with something we knew nothing about.”
So the research process began, including an Arizona visit made by Haddad, the school principal and others during which they inspected four Monolithic Dome school sites. Haddad said, “We looked at the existing structures and made notes, and, frankly, I had to resolve some major concerns.”
In his report to the building committee, Haddad addressed each of those concerns. He said, “I wanted to go with stemwalls. That was a must in my book. I was concerned about air-handling quality inside the domes, since they’re such tight structures. Acoustics were another concern. They can be terrible in a dome, but you can solve that with the right acoustical material. Form and space inside the dome was the final issue, but we learned we could do modifications to suit ourselves. Dome technology is flexible, making that possible.”
Haddad said that Consulting Architect Rick Crandall supplied the information they needed and convinced them that a Monolithic Dome is more economical space. “That was a swaying point, the deciding factor to go Monolithic,” he said.
Reaction to the idea of Monolithic Domes was mixed. “Many people just didn’t know what to think,” Haddad said. “But we’re on the coast so hurricanes are a real threat. The domes gained a lot more acceptance when folks learned of their strength. We will use them as disaster shelters for the school and the community.”
To further the education process, Haddad ordered a virtual reality program that presented their school expansion project in three-dimensions. He said, “We sent our plans to an outside, consulting virtual reality firm. They put the plans on a computer that gave us a scale model. We needed to do that because nine times out of ten people have a hard time reading plans. That program helped immensely.”
The Domes: Summer of 2002
On its 17 acres, the Catholic Diocese of Venice, Florida completed Phase I of a three-phase building project that will eventually encompass seven Monolithic Domes at the Bishop Nevins Academy.
Designed by Architect Rafael Moreu, president of Moreu & Associates, Maitland, Florida, each of the domes is a two-story structure with stemwalls. Ray Haddad said, “All our domes are roundabouts with vertical walls. The Monolithic Dome actually begins at the ring beam, atop the wall, to which the Airforms were attached.”
Dave Kocher of D.E. Murphy Constructors, Inc., a full service general contracting and construction management firm, headquartered in Sarasota, was project manager. He said that the stemwalls are cast-in-place, reinforced concrete, about eight inches thick.
Once the walls were in place, Ryan Poole supervised a team from DOMTEC International, LLC., a major dome builder based in Idaho Falls, Idaho. Poole’s team attached the Airforms and completed each Monolithic Dome.
Despite the fact that the Monolithic Domes at Bishop Nevins Academy are a first for the state of Florida, the Catholic Diocese of Venice, and some of the professionals responsible for their design and construction, all went very well. Ray Haddad said, “Everything went according to plan and we’re happy with it. D.E. Murphy and DOMTEC International did a super job for us.”
Dave Kocher said, “It’s very unique construction and I’m glad I went through it.” And Ryan Poole commented, “It was a good job. Murphy was a good contractor to work with. We had no problems. It all went very smoothly.”
Pastor Fausto Stampiglia said that their new $12.8 million campus actually serves two schools: St. Martha Catholic School and Dreams Are Free.
St. Martha’s occupies Dome B which has a diameter of 140 feet and classrooms for students in prekindergarten through grade eight.
Dreams Are Free is a non-graded school with programs for special-needs children, six to fifteen years old, and also functions as a training center for teachers. It’s housed in Dome F, a structure with 11,500 square feet of flexible class space within its 124-foot diameter.
Dome E (124’ diameter), with its state-of-the-art kitchen serves as a cafeteria for both schools.
A chapel with an impressive skylight is the central core of Dome A (128’ diameter), the Academy’s Wren Pavilion. In addition to the chapel, Dome A has administrative offices, computer labs and a library on its ground floor and classrooms above.
A conventionally built, air conditioned mall, 300 feet long and 50 feet wide connects the domes and functions as a common area for school assemblies and public and social functions.
“Right now, at both schools we have 508 students enrolled,” Father Stampiglia said. "But what we foresee is to have eventually about 720 students.
“We could have more now, but the City of Sarasota won’t let us, until they complete their traffic study which they have to do while the schools are operating,” Father explained. “Meanwhile, we’re happy with the domes. Everybody is truly impressed, and we are getting much attention from the media. Television people have been here several times and will be here again when we have our official inauguration on October 4.”
Note: This article is a combination of two presented in 2000 and 2002 on our website.