Bass Lake District gets approval on domed gym

Construction will begin as early as August on California's first dome style school gymnasium

awileman@sierrastar.comJuly 15, 2014 

Last week Wasuma Elementary and Bass Lake School District received final approval from the Division of State Architects to begin construction on a one-of-a-kind monolithic dome style gymnasium.

After months of deliberation, and researching more cost efficient projects, Bass Lake Superintendent Glenn Reid is proud to announce the beginning of a several month project to design and create California's first school dome gymnasium.

The idea to build a gym came about during a community meeting back in 2006 in which community members discussed a list of projects to be constructed using the $15 million bond received that year. The school met with community members, conducted round table discussions, and came up with a list of relevant projects they wanted to complete using the bond money, with a Wasuma gym being on that list.

Upon the completion of other more vital bond proposal projects — Oakhurst Elementary School remodeling project and other district projects — the district was left with a sizable chunk of money to start construction on the Wasuma gym.

However, Reid knew the cost of the gymnasium at Wasuma would more than likely outweigh the little more than $1 million the school had left in its budget.

After receiving multiple bids of more than $5 million to build a typical four-sided gymnasium - large enough to meet the needs of the school - Reid realized the gym was going to far exceed their financial capabilities.

In response Reid spoke with the schools construction consultant, Glenn Lauterbach, who worked with the district in consulting and helped build the Ansel Adams building and the Baker swim complex, and asked him to locate an alternative option that was financially closer to the amount of money remaining in the schools budget.

Lauterbach, an experienced builder throughout the central valley building schools, proposed the idea of a monolithic dome shaped gym that would not only lower the construction costs but make the building much more energy efficient - saving the district money over time.

Once the district approved the project it was onto the DSA to get approval. Normally taking 3-4 months to gain approval from the state, the uniqueness of the project caused significant delays and took more than 16 months before the state could give its official stamp of approval.

"We had plans for a conventional designed gym but the previous contractor couldn't get within budget, so at the time I was working for the school district as a construction manager and I looked at models which we did at the elementary school and they were still out of the budget," Lauterbach said. "I looked online and saw a gym pod. From that point the numbers seemed to work and we were able to stretch it out and get a gym large enough for our liking."

Juan Gonzalez, of Gonzalez Architects in Fresno, who has been hired to build the gym says the monolithic style dome will significantly reduce the cost and time of production, something that was essential for Reid and the district before they could approve.

"We are optimistic that the project building cost will be 8% to 10% less expensive than a conventional gymnasium building structure," Gonzalez said.

According to Gonzalez the lower cost is attributed to the shorter time frame required by the monolithic dome construction system, use of less sub-contractors to build the project and reduced construction delays due to inclement weather, since most of the construction is inside the dome once the dome envelope is completed.

On top of the decreased cost, according to, monolithic domes energy efficiency and low maintenance allow them to operate economically and hold long term benefits including strength, longevity, and ability to survive any natural disaster including fires, termites and rot.

"The dome gym will be more energy efficient than previous models. In fact, places like Arizona, who have built several domed facilities, their energy costs were reduced by as much as 50%," Reid said.

The domes are so energy efficient, Reid says heating and air conditioning are not always a necessity and plans to delay the additions of the heating and cooling units.

"To be on the safe side we are going to allow for a heating and air conditioning system but are not going to do that initially because the insulation of these domes is so spectacular," Reid said.

Lauterbach, plans to walk Reid through step by step, and according to Reid, will be instrumental across the board for the whole project.

In fact, Lauterbach's willingness to spend time on the project and accept a fee much less than other consultants has saved the district loads of money.

"It was nice to have a local guy to help us get through this correctly and helping us save money," Reid said. "There is no way I was going to be able to make those types of decision, and if he had not been here I'm not sure what we would have done. Without him we would have never have gotten through what we got through," Reid said.

Construction for the state-of-the-art facility is set to begin as early as August and the construction site will be in between the current junior high and the softball field.

According to Gonzalez the construction will take up to eight months, but could potentially be completed in time for next year's graduation.

Gonzalez, who has limited experience in building domes, says he is excited about the opportunity to create such an intriguing design for the Bass Lake School District community.

"This is going to be a very interesting and exciting project," Gonzalez said. "A dome is an intriguing building shape; as architects we are always pushing the envelope for new ideas, building types and materials to create an envelope that houses internal spaces."

Gonzalez says although this will be his first dome shaped building of this kind he is confident that the project will go over without a hitch.

"We do not anticipate any issues, local professional engineers are utilized and the Division of the State Architects Office has scrutinized and approved the designed documents significantly beyond a conventional structure and I am very curious to see the dome structure taking shape though the construction."

Gonzalez say his team of experienced architects will be on top of the construction and will handle the situation professionally and in a timely manner keeping with safety and state regulations.

"Gonzalez Architects specializes in educational facilities. We have designed and built facilities ranging from elementary school, new classroom additions, multi-purpose buildings, gymnasiums, modernizations to high school expansions throughout the valley," Gonzalez said.

The estimated cost of the project is somewhere in the range of $1-2 million dollars and will be the first of its kind to be used for educational and school purposes in the state of California.

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