It’s a small, agribusiness community near the Texas Gulf Coast that has about 1700 people and a high school with just 700 students. But Woodsboro ISD managed to get a FEMA grant of $1.5 million to build a Monolithic Dome multipurpose center/disaster shelter whose grand opening is scheduled for this May.
How it came about
Superintendent Steven Self said that in 2005 the school district succeeded in passing a bond to renovate existing structures, suffering from termite infestation and rot, and to build a new gym/activity center.
“We contracted with an architect,” Steven said, "and completed some renovation and some new construction – work for which the bond had been passed. But it was the worst possible time because hurricanes were occurring and everything was sky high. Our bond wasn’t going as far as we needed and wanted. What was happening was not what the builders and architect had projected.
“We were at the point where they had designed a multipurpose center. It was a regular, rectangular, gym-type structure. They had designed it and we had already paid them to do this. Then the prices started coming in. According to the projections, it would cost $2.2 million, but it was coming in at about $3 million just to build.
“Then the School Board and I asked them for some projections on electric costs, and these were coming in for as much as $50,000 per year to heat and cool this building. We wanted to keep it to $150,00 per year for the whole district. Even $30,000 would have been a huge cost increase.”
So the Board decided to look for something different. Some preliminary Internet research got Steven to www.Monolithic.com and a call to Marketing Director Gary Clark.
“I told Gary our story,” Steven recalled. "And Gary said, ‘You would be doing your tax payers a great disservice if you didn’t at least look into the dome.’ So I went up there (summer 2007) and met with Gary and David South (Monolithic’s president).
“Two years had elapsed since we had passed that bond. I was feeling frustrated. But I looked at the domes and what they could do. And David told me about a school in Missouri that got a FEMA grant to help build its Monolithic Dome preschool/disaster shelter.
“Then I started talking to the Board and it was ‘Oh, no! No way!’ It was a hard sell, but I got them to agree to meet with David.”
Other important sources
At about the time that David South was preparing a presentation to Woodsboro’s Facilities Committee, the School Board and other community representatives, including some in construction, Steven contacted the Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM). It helps local governments respond to and recover from disasters and it implements plans to lessen the impact of emergencies and disasters. In fact, Steven learned that TDEM has a Hazard Mitigation Grant Program.
“That was encouraging,” Steven said, “so I got the TDEM application information. I also contacted the Missouri school; FEMA had paid for more than 75% of their dome. I talked with the gentleman who wrote their grant, had him send me a copy and began combining some ideas of my own with what he had presented.”
Beginning the application process
The town of Woodsboro has an area of just 0.8 square miles, but its location in southwestern Refugio County makes it easily accessible to people in two other communities; both Bayside and Bonnie View are within a 20-minute drive of Woodsboro.
As Steven began drafting his Notice of Intent that TDEM required, he gave that a lot of consideration. He said, “Hurricane Ike (Sept. 2008) had just hit Galveston and it was in an evacuation area, but some people just wouldn’t leave. The same thing could happen in our area. We are in an evacuation county, so folks are supposed to evacuate, but they don’t. A dome for emergencies could save the lives of people in Woodsboro and Bayside and Bonnie View. None had a disaster shelter.”
Steven also stipulated that a shelter was needed for first responders, who stay behind to manage an evacuation. “After everyone else is out, there’s no safe place for first responders to go,” Steven said. “We would have had exactly that situation if Ike had hit here. We were ready for Ike, all boarded up and we got everybody away. But when we called hotels and motels for ourselves, they were all full. We called Refugio, the county seat, and learned they were going to their hospital basement, but it was full. So our first responders had to stay in their own homes.”
Eliminate the negatives
Data that David South had presented convinced the School Board. They wanted a Monolithic Dome and were very interested in the possibility of getting a grant that would make up for some of the money already spent. So Steven approached the architects Woodsboro had already worked with. Steven said, “I told them about the dome and that David would like to have a local Texas architect to work with an architect who has done Monolithic Domes. They turned me down flat. Didn’t want any part of it. Said it wouldn’t work and they didn’t like them and we would regret doing it. We heard that a lot from other pros – air conditioning people and some in construction.”
Despite the negatives, Woodsboro stuck to their decision. They had Monolithic’s Consulting Architect Lee Gray do preliminary drawings, got a preliminary budget and began looking for professional help with writing the grant application.
They contracted with Anne Williams of Real Grant Solutions, a firm that works with governmental entities on environmental issues in Texas.
Describing the project
In part, Woodsboro’s Community Disaster Shelter Construction Project Synopsis that Anne Williams assembled reads:
This is a request for Hazard Mitigation Grant Funds to develop a monolithic, thin-shell, concrete dome shelter that will meet the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s standard of near-absolute protection from hurricanes and tornadoes to protect citizens in Woodsboro, Texas and surrounding communities of Refugio County…. The proposed dome structure will provide safe shelter for all students and faculty of Woodsboro ISD as well as emergency personnel and citizens of Woodsboro, and the surrounding communities of Bayside and Bonnie View, both of which are within 20 minutes of the proposed shelter….
Woodsboro participated in the Hazard Mitigation Action Plan (HMAP) for the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority (GBRA), Although this specific project is not identified in the Plan, both Refugio County and the town of Woodsboro participated in the planning process and developed mitigation actions for the 2005 HMAP entitled, “Protecting the Region Against All Hazards”.
The project is cost effective, with a benefit-cost ration of 1.06 to 1…. This new construction project is a hazard mitigation measure which makes use of previously disturbed ground. The proposed project does not adversely impact any environmental or historic resources on site or in the immediate project vicinity. In addition the project will not have an adverse impact on the quality of the human environment….
The 18,376 square foot dome is almost entirely safe room area. The design engineer has estimated that by allowing 7 square feet per person, the dome will hold 2,625 people….
According to FEMA’s construction criteria, monolithic dome structures provide “near absolute protection” from injury or death caused by hurricanes, tropical storms or tornadoes. In addition Monolithic domes are energy efficient, receiving an E-Star rating from the Department of Energy….
In all, Woodsboro’s application included 19 Sections and 7 Appendices of specific, detailed information. “It was a lot of work,” Steven said, “but well worth our time and energy.”
Woodsboro submitted their grant application in April 2009, but official word of their success did not occur until January 2010. “And that was a little strange,” Steven said. “We were waiting to hear from some government office, but that wasn’t happening. Then our newspaper, the Victoria Advocate called us saying that they received a press release from Congressman Ruben Hinojosa that said we got the grant! Oh, happy day!”