Small, but impressive
Kelton, Texas is not a town. It’s a State-accredited, independent school district, consisting of a few homes and a school, surrounded by 134 square miles of ranches and farms. It sits at the crossroads of what Texans call “Farm-to-Market Roads,” FM 2697 and FM 596, near the town of Wheeler, close to the eastern border of the Panhandle.
Of Kelton’s 158 students, in Pre-Kindergarten through Grade 12, all but seven are bussed in. But while its size may be small, Kelton’s standards are not. It’s mission: “…to ensure that all students will learn and demonstrate the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and ethics necessary to succeed as contributing members of society.”
Since its start in 1904 with a single teacher for all grades, Kelton’s student population has consistently grown. Jay Watson, superintendent of Kelton ISD, said that most of his students reside in towns that have their own schools but choose to go to Kelton.
When Kelton’s one school building became overcrowded, its Board of Trustees proposed a $5 million bond election for an additional building. On May 10, 2008 voters overwhelmingly passed it.
But Mr. Watson and the Board didn’t just want another building. They wanted one that was energy efficient. In his Web search, one Board member found Monolithic Domes. “We thought they were unique,” Mr. Watson said. “We decided that we could look. We don’t always have to have a box.”
They visited Texhoma, Oklahoma and the two Monolithic Domes built there in 2000. “I talked to an older man who had been on Texhoma’s Board for more than 30 years,” Mr. Watson recalled, “and I just asked him, ‘What did you do wrong?’ He pointed to two old buildings and said, ‘I okayed their construction and they’re not domes. I’m going to stay on the Board the rest of my life and all I’m going to let us build is Monolithic Domes.’ That convinced me. There was no turning back.” Kelton was going Monolithic.
To get design ideas and talk with teachers, principals and coaches already using Monolithic Domes, Mr. Watson and various staff members visited campuses in Beggs and Geronimo,Oklahoma and in Italy and Avalon, Texas.
If you build it, they will come!
When Mr. Watson talks about Kelton’s dome, he likes using that famous quote from the 1989 movie Field of Dreams. He said the Kelton community, including parents, teachers, administrators and students – with very few exceptions – favored building a Monolithic Dome. They wanted a structure that provided security, disaster resistance and affordable energy. Mr. Watson is convinced that those attributes will attract even more students.
In July 2009 South Industries, Inc. of Menan, Idaho began constructing Kelton’s Monolithic Dome. It has a diameter of 100 feet and an overall height of 34 feet, that includes a 14-foot-high stemwall. The dome’s two floors provide 11,000 square feet for a library and six semi-rectangular classrooms on the lower level and six pie-shaped classrooms on the upper level.
On August 20, 2010 Kelton celebrated with a Dome Dedication and an official, academic opening for Grades 4 through 12. Mr. Watson said, “Forty people came to the dedication. That’s a pretty good turnout considering our small population. There was not one negative comment, and adults who had no kids in school asked for a tour.”
Mr. Watson showed the dome and explained its all-electric, energy-management, heating and cooling system. It allows teachers to control their classrooms’ temperature, but only within a specific range. The master control stays at 70 degrees. Each teacher can go only two degrees over or under 70.
“We have families here that got so excited when they learned that in severe weather their children will be safe,” Mr. Watson said. “We have a cellar that we used before, but it can’t hold all the kids in our school. Our dome can and the dome is much closer than the cellar for our little, elementary kids.”
Kelton’s dome includes a completely enclosed connector to its rectangular building, so a student can walk between any two points without ever going outside. Mr. Watson said, “We’re very proud of the fact that when a child comes to school and goes into a classroom, he is always behind locked doors. The only way people can come in is through the glass door outside my office, so they have to stop by my office.”
He recalled a recent incident when he received a Protective Order stating that a certain parent was not allowed access to a certain child. “I got word that parent was on his way to school,” Mr. Watson said. “I sent the child to a spot inside the dome to be with a teacher until I knew that parent had left. That’s a desirable safety net.”