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Monolithic Domes creating energy effi cient, safe, utilitarian spaces


Dome plan designed by Michael McCoy Architects. Graphic courtesy of Michael McCoy


M By Jocelyn Pedersen


onolithic domes are taking root in Oklahoma, especial- ly in small towns in


need of schools or public space while simultaneously offering shelter from severe weather. There are many monolithic domes in Oklahoma. Beggs Public Schools in Beggs, Okla., currently has two domes with one serving as a gym and the other as a fi fth and sixth-grade classroom center. Superintendent Robert Martin said he likes knowing that in inclement weather, students, faculty, staff and the community can seek shelter in the dome because they are FEMA-certified storm shelters. Furthermore, Martin appreciates the energy savings the domes provide. “I think they’re great,” Martin said. “Cost-wise, the utilities are very eco- nomical. It doesn’t take much to heat and cool.” Monolithic.org, the website of the Monolithic Dome Institute, reports that monolithic domes use about 50 percent less energy for heating and cooling than conventionally constructed buildings and provide “near-abso- lute protection and have a proven ability to survive tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, most manmade disasters, fi re, termites and rot.” The residents of Beggs, many of whom are served by East Central


Oklahoma Electric Cooperative, recently passed a bond issue to build two more domes, Martin said, showing that the “community is behind all of this.” A FEMA grant will help pay part of the cost. One dome is slated to be a band room at the high school and the other will be a multipurpose center at the elementary school. Michael McCoy will serve as the architect. McCoy has designed and built domes in Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri,


Colorado, Delaware and Texas over the course of a dozen years and has eight domes under design right now. He said the building shape is not consistent with typical angular construction. The nature of domes brings several things


to the table including the fact that they are structurally rigid, FEMA compliant, and can better withstand high veloc- ity wind loads than their angular counterparts because they are more aerodynamic.


Since monolithic domes are made of con-


crete block walls and a concrete ceiling, they are very thermodynamic.


“When you build a huge, concrete igloo, you have a ther-


mal mass to 70 degrees,” McCoy said. “When you turn the air conditioning off, the thermal mass will control that mass for a period of days.” In short, the dome will maintain its internal temperature for a substantial length of time. McCoy said an Oklahoma superintendent once told him that if his school district could save $30,000 a year in facilities costs by having a dome, he could use those annual savings to hire an additional teacher. Dome effi ciency starts at the ground and goes up. Construction begins with a concrete footing to support a concrete-block stem wall of a desired height. Next, a ring beam is created at the top and a membrane is put into place then infl ated to make a dome shape. Foam is sprayed from the bottom to the top to insulate the dome. Finally, concrete is sprayed from the inside while simultaneously being reinforced with rebar. To imagine how this works, think about adding boning from the bottom to the top of a hoop skirt and project this image onto a huge scale. When fi nished, the dome is a completely insulated, solid concrete building that can be used in a variety of ways. Monolithic domes were fi rst used as large commodity storage facilities for grain, but have become popular for other commercial and residential uses. They are currently gaining popularity as school cafeterias or gymnasiums and municipal complexes with offi ces. They can serve as storm shelters for thousands of people and fi rst responder equipment can be stored inside so when an emergency arises, equipment remains safe. Because domes are


“I think they’re great. Cost-wise, the utilities are very economical.” - Robert Martin, Beggs Public Schools superintendent


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