Stick-to-itiveness Round One
After rejecting four bond issues in five years, in 2000, the 165 residents of Caledonia, Missouri overwhelmingly approved one. That approval happened because School Superintendent Larry Graves and Elementary Principal Steve Yount launched an intensive, persistent campaign aimed at educating their community about Monolithic Domes.
So Caledonians said yes to the construction of three Monolithic Domes, two to house classrooms for grades 3 through 6 and one as a gymnasium at their Valley R-6 School District that serves 475 students in Kindergarten through Grade 12.
Planning began immediately, closely followed by the start of construction. On Presidents Day 2002, the community proudly opened the doors of its two academic domes and students and teachers moved into their 11 new classrooms.
At that point, although planning continued, the building of the gym had not yet started. But school officials, as well as the public, knew that constructing the gym would be a slow process, governed by available funds.
Stick-to-itiveness Round Two
Steve Yount said, "The immediate priority was to get the school district stable financially. We have done that over the last three years.
“We were able to get a bill through the Missouri Legislature and signed by the Governor,” Yount continued, “to allow four schools, including ours, to make a one-time transfer to the Capital Projects Fund, which is where the money to build must be spent from. I anticipate that we will be able to transfer enough to finish the gym!”
Stick-to-itiveness Round Three
Yount used the time during which gym construction had virtually halted to work with the architects. His goal: redesigning various components.
Based on his conversations with President David South and others at Monolithic, his own research into Monolithic structures, and his experience as a coach, teacher and school administrator, he wanted some changes.
“I always tell people interested in domes,” Yount said, “to get an architect knowledgeable about domes or, at least, one willing to listen. Ours was willing to listen, and we worked through some problems. By the time we got to the gymnasium, he had a pretty good idea of what we were doing.”
Yount insisted on redrawing the gym floor plan and replacing space taken up by custom seating with two regulation cross courts. He also cut the overkill on the HVAC and redesigned the lighting.
Architectural plans for the gymnasium lighting called for the dome’s white ceiling to reflect lights shining up at it. “That would have been beautiful,” Yount said, “but we wouldn’t be able to hear each other talk in there. I knew that acoustic studies at the two dome gyms in Texas, Italy and Avalon, showed that.”
So instead, the gym will have direct lighting and an acoustically better, drop ceiling.
Fortunately, the School Board agreed with and supported the changes.
“This is about to become a real success story,” Yount said. “We are going to have a great facility completed shortly. We’re now doing the finishing – letting out bids for the finishing package – the floor, bleachers, baskets and all those last touches.”
The school hopes to begin using its new, 1000-seat, Monolithic Dome gym in 2008. “It’s going to be a fabulous multipurpose building with a portable stage,” Yount said. "Besides sports, it will be used for graduations, concerts, performances, band practice, art and music classes, etc. It’s going to be a busy, busy dome.
“People here are really proud of what we’re accomplishing,” he concluded. “Larry Graves has visited since moving, and he’s very pleased with our progress. I am too.”
Comments from the Architect
Gary Barbee, a partner at Sam A. Winn & Associates Architects PC, said that Caledonia’s three domes were his first experience in Monolithic Dome design – an experience he found challenging and enjoyable.
It gave him an opportunity to see advantages and disadvantages of Monolithic Domes. The advantages were obvious: savings in energy use and maintenance and strength.
As for disadvantages, Barbee named only one: a dome’s shape. He said that some professionals they wanted to hire for various jobs felt they could not perform their tasks in a round structure. But those who were willing to try and to learn did well, and he would welcome another Monolithic Dome project.
Recent Ice Storms & Future Plans
During the interview, Steve Yount told me what Caledonia experienced during this winter’s ice and wind storms that covered their area with two to three inches of ice and left people without power for up to two weeks.
He said the domes were unaffected, and, although they were without power, the domes retained their heat, so people spent their days warming up in the Monolithic Domes.
The community wants their domes certified by the Red Cross as a designated disaster shelter and is looking into grants that would finance a generator.
Domes Made the Difference at Valley R-6
by Larry Graves, Superintendent
Note: Larry Graves was District Superintendent of Valley R-6 School District for six years as well as a teacher, a principal and a superintendent in other districts, for a total of 20 years in education. Except for some subtitles, Mr. Graves wrote this article and submitted it to Monolithic in 2001.
A significant first
In April 2000 a miracle happened in the Valley R-6 School District in Washington County, Missouri: District residents voted to allow the school to do something that none of them had ever even heard of until a few months prior to election. Valley voters soundly approved the Classrooms for Kids issue which allowed the building of three domes that will house grades three through six and a gymnasium to seat approximately 800 people.
This came after voters had rejected four bond issues in the past five years, as the district tried to begin a process of replacing aging buildings, the newest of which was built in 1965.
How did it happen?
The answers are not clear-cut, but I think that it just might have been the dome idea that swayed voters.
The seed was planted about two years ago, when I received a copy of Roundup (Summer 1998) in the mail. I get so much mail that a lot of it I just glance at before it goes in the trash. But the cover caught my eye, and I began to glance at the articles, then I just stopped everything and read the whole thing.
I was struck by the facts regarding the positive points of Monolithic Domes. They are so energy efficient, safe, durable, and cost less than conventional buildings. I thought how practical it would be to have a school made with domes, since their strong points are exactly what schools need and voters want.
Money is always an issue, as is safety, and with the history of Valley R-6 anything that is built would be expected to last a long time. Our district is rural and consists of about 500 students spread over 197 square miles. The land is forest and grassland, with the raising of cattle as the primary occupation of the farm owners. Many people work outside the district as far away as St. Louis.
Raising taxes is a very sensitive issue, and we had been trying for years to convince the voters of the need to begin replacing the district’s facilities. I figured that it would take at least three more bond issues to replace everything, and, at an average of 20 years an issue, that meant 60 more years, making the last building to be replaced 95 years old. But the board and I felt we would not be doing our jobs if we didn’t keep trying.
However, voters would not support a conventional building plan of block and brick. Each time the district ran an issue, it was defeated, the last time soundly. Each time a new issue was presented, the board had to deal with the increase in building costs, which averaged $100,000 a year. We kept telling the voters about the increased costs, but it didn’t seem to make a difference. This increase in construction cost required either more money or less building, and the latter was the route the district kept choosing to keep the cost to voters down to a minimum.
Since classrooms were given the highest priority, the gymnasium became the victim, and it shrank until we considered a metal building with no bleachers as one of our alternatives. By then it had become something less than a gym, and we knew we had to do something different if we were going to get what we wanted and our students needed.
The last ballot issue in April 2000 posed a real dilemma. The board and I wanted to do something for our kids, but would we be doing them a service if we put something before the voters that would not meet the needs of the district? It would have been something that I would have been ashamed to have been a part of because I knew it wasn’t what the district needed or deserved.
That’s when I proposed building domes.
The reception from the board was cool at best, and looking back, I appreciate how they politely tolerated my “harebrained idea,” then moved on to other discussion.
I began discussing the dome concept with Steve Yount, our elementary principal, and he became interested in learning more, as was I. We decided that a trip to Pattonsburg, Missouri was the next step. We had to know if domes were something worth considering, or not. Since I had never seen one, I felt like the blind leading the blind when talking to our board. And I needed to experience one myself.
A call to Gene Walker, Pattonsburg Superintendent of Schools, set the date. After six hours of hard driving, the domes were spotted, still seven miles away. With our excitement building, we couldn’t wait to get inside. With video and digital cameras in hand, we made our way in.
My first impression was WOW!
This is a nice building. Gene and his staff were very helpful and courteous as we toured the facilities. They answered our constant barrage of questions. Steve and I exchanged several glances the first few minutes, because we could both see the practicality and advantages of the dome idea. The classroom buildings were roomy and attractive, with a personality all their own due to the “dome effect.”
When we entered the gym, I knew we were sold for life. Since both of us are old coaches, we loved the openness and high ceiling, which made for a very appealing appearance.
We left after two hours, convinced that domes were ideal for our situation. Now all that remained was to convince the board and community! That process took a little longer, since I knew that seeing is believing.
Seeing is believing
Steve and I began urging the board to make the trip to Pattonsburg to see, firsthand, what domes were like. We also decided that we needed to take community members as well in order to get reactions from as many people as possible. Invitations were sent to key community people, and they were asked to invite anyone they thought would be interested.
The problem was the distance and the time people would have to commit on that day. The distance kept several interested people from going because they weren’t willing to endure a trip of that magnitude. In the end we had 11 people go, four of whom were board members. The district used a small bus for the journey that began at 6 a.m. and ended after midnight, when we finally returned home.
It really was a test of endurance, but on the way home I knew we had done the right thing. The board members had their heads together, literally, and I overhead comments regarding dome size, classroom arrangements, cost, etc. And I knew they were hooked.
Steve and I now had help when we started talking domes. We began looking at the monolithic.com website and printing literature for the board, so they could learn more about domes, and soon the entire board endorsed the concept.
A doable project
Our district architect Gary Barbee had no experience with domes, but was eager to learn, so we loaned him some issues of Roundup, and he began getting up to speed as well. The board had him do some preliminary work on the feasibility of going with domes, and, due to his lack of knowledge in building domes, he naturally estimated the costs on the conservative side, which meant more dollars. However, once he began talking to actual dome builders, those estimates came down into the range of what we had budgeted, which was $1,650,000.
Since we had been told that Pattonsburg spent $3,000,000 to build four domes, we knew that we would have to find ways to cut our costs per square foot in order to make our project work. The main thing was that we felt the project was doable.
We eventually settled on a plan that would enable the district to build two 110-foot academic domes and one 140-foot gymnasium, with a total of more than 34,000 square feet. The eleven classrooms for grades 3 to 6 would be 890 square feet each, larger than any the district now has.
Where before we had compromised the gymnasium and its seating capacity, we now were planning to seat more than 800 in comfort. In addition, we would have a lobby, administration offices, locker rooms with coach’s offices and a training room. That is a far cry from the metal building we discussed earlier, and our current gym, built in 1953, would finally get replaced!
The next step was getting voters to support the idea.
We called for a meeting of the committee that had helped during the other bond issues, and let them know that the school had a different kind of building in mind this time around. We began telling them of our dome idea, hoping their reaction would be at least a little positive. Where in the past we could count on 20 to 25 dedicated supporters, this time we had at least twice that show up, and, needless to say, that was encouraging.
We spent most of the first meeting educating them about dome advantages with literature and a video of the process and finished results. There were lots of questions and some skepticism, but once the advantages began to sink in, committee members liked the idea.
Being on the cutting edge of something this revolutionary appealed to them, and they began getting excited. We met with our architect and our bondsman and planned advertising strategy. We did some of the things we had done on other issues, but some new ideas were tried as well. One thing we did not do was buy signs to put in yards. We had a few left that we doctored and updated and used about 20 of those.
We made the usual eight-page pamphlets and gave them to everyone we could, as well as a one-page flier, and they were very informative. We put some ads in the newspaper and on the radio; we divided the list of registered voters, and people volunteered to make calls. We also did a live broadcast with the board president, a teacher, and me. We kept stressing the advantages: Safety, Efficiency, Durability and Cost.
We did some new things that I feel were very beneficial. We had the technology department at Mineral Area College make a continuous running video of our power-point presentation that included audio, so the voice could explain the pictures and point out the advantages to watchers. At the end of it, we added the audio of a Paul Harvey radio comment, wherein he mentions the advantages of dome buildings and wonders if they are the shape of things to come. We made several copies and put one in a local restaurant and another in the bank, so they would be seen by a large number of people, and we gave copies to anyone that wanted one to show people in his or her home.
The best thing we did was to have students write an essay about whether or not they felt we needed a new building and give their reasons for feeling as they did. Those we published in the newspaper and posted in businesses around the district, and they were priceless. Kids have a way of saying things that are to the point, yet often funny at the same time. All but a couple thought having a dome school building would be great.
We kept having regular meetings, and our committee kept growing. More new folks volunteered to help, and the general feeling became one of optimism. We only allowed ourselves a couple of months to campaign, but, looking back, it worked out about right, since the last two to four weeks is the critical time frame anyway.
A victory party
Election night we scheduled a victory party, which we had never done before. We had a good feeling about this time! People brought desserts and high hopes, but as the time grew near, it was hard not to talk about how we’d had high hopes in the past, only to go home disappointed after the votes were tallied.
Only this time our dream came true! As I recorded the numbers from the county clerk and began adding the precinct totals, I knew it had passed. Board members began shaking hands, and I just sat stunned, unable to show the emotions that I felt.
We had done what seemed impossible, even preposterous a few months earlier. Domes are coming to our Valley!
Editor’s Note: By December 2000, Caledonia School District had three Airforms inflated: two 110-foot academic domes and one 140-foot athletic facility. After the first Airform inflation, school administrators allowed school children, 300 at one time, to enter the dome. This helped the children visualize just how large their new school will be. Superintendent Larry Graves states that while one boy was being interviewed by a news reporter, he was so amazed by the dome’s size he made up his own word to describe it: “It’s humongo.”
Four newspapers, a local radio station and one St. Louis television reporter have featured the Monolithic Dome school. The local radio station in Farmington, Missouri allows Larry to give periodic construction reports and comments regarding their new facility.
Note: We first published this article in January 2007.