Wasuma monolithic gym under construction

The construction of Wasuma’s monolithic dome style gymnasium is well underway at the Wasuma Elementary.

The dome shaped building will be the first of its kind for a California school and will be home to a 40 feet by 70 feet basketball/volleyball court, a 30-by-50 stage, two sets of moveable bleachers, three equipment storage rooms and a janitors closet and will include a girls and boys restroom. An electronic scoreboard, sound system and automatic screen and projector will be available for assemblies, dances, movie nights, teacher’s meetings and community gatherings.

Originally estimated to be completed by June’s 2015 graduation, the building's unique design has caused several delays and Bass Lake Joint Union Elementary School District Superintendent Glenn Reid now has his eyes set on September 2015 for a completion date.

According to Construction Developer and Project Manager Glen Lauterbach the delays have much to do with the lack of experience the Division of State Architects (DSA) has with approving dome style buildings for municipal school projects. Lauterbach said the DSA’s specific requirements for schools emphasize safety for the students and long term reliability. Lauterbach said it has been a slow process to this point but hopes to have things moving along now that they are at the developmental stage of the project.

“The challenge is just being the first one in California and going through the DSA,” Lauterbach said. “Their standard for construction is one or two levels above your normal construction type and it being their first one of this kind everyone is looking at is with a really close eye,” Lauterbach said.

Hired for their expertise in dome-style buildings, South Industries Inc. has constructed thousands of domes throughout the world including military installations, schools and churches.

Vice President of South Industries Inc., Andrew South, said the most difficult part of construction when dealing with a new market is educating people on the design process of these energy saving capabilities of these projects.

“I think the biggest challenge, especially when going into new markets is just the education cycle. We do a lot of different procedures and approaches. In any new market, generally speaking, once it gets going and people can see it they can understand it. Generally it looks dramatically different but once you get inside you realize it's a lot of the same flooring and same light fixtures,” South said.

The idea to build a dome style gym came about during a community meeting back in 2006 in which atendees 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 the 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.

“There are several reasons we elected to build a monolithic dome gymnasium. One is cost. The cost of traditional construction is significantly higher than the cost of a domed building. The energy savings from this type of construction will also be significant,” Reid 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.

When asked whether or not this could be the future of development South was a bit hesitant but agreed that domes are becoming more widely excepted throughout the world and much more durable than traditional designs.

“We have been doing this for 30 years and its had a really slow uptake. Conceptually and visually it can be quite different but it’s not all that different in many aspects,” South said. “Will it be the future? I don't know. You look at movies about the future and there are domes all over them, so is that the future? I think it's representative of people's vision of the future and it has the potential and benefits for the future.”

South said with more domes being produced there is the likelihood that others will soon catch on to the benefits offered by these amazingly efficient structures.

“In the mid-west there are lots of schools that look at it because they see other school districts doing it and that kind of takes some of the newness away. The supposed liability of newness is starting to go away and they are starting to go look at these," South said. "As a society we are getting more comfortable with change.”

According to South these dome style projects offer countless energy saving benefits compared to more traditional architectural designs such as heating and building costs that are about 20% and 75% less than traditional structures.

“As energy costs go up people are being more open to new avenues of construction,” South said. "There are certain things on this project that are different compared to others. There are so many benefits this offers such as cooling, heating, savings and energy efficiency," South said.

Reid said the district is eager as ever to get construction completed and hopes to have the gym operational for the beginning of the next school year.

When completed the dome is expected to hold up to 892 people, more than double the old gymnasium which had a capacity of about 375 and will have room for the entire school and guestsduring graduations and school performances.

The main purpose for the gym will be to host PE activities, sporting events, graduation and assemblies. The old gym will be used to serve lunch.

The next stage of construction will be the roof of the gym which requires specific construction techniques unknown to many in California. Luaterbach said the dome will be covered with a plastic wrap and pressurized before the PVC industrial roofing material can be placed and sprayed onto the inside of the temporary roofing to design the actual roof.

"Once we get this things inflated and pressurized it is the most critical point and the most dangerous point as well so we can’t have questions being asked by the DSA at that time and if there are we need them to be answered quickly because we need to keep moving to get the things built up," Lauterbach said.

Reid hopes to have the gym construction completed by September of this year.

"We are all very excited about the gym finally being under construction. Anytime you have to deal with state agencies, it seems that delays can be expected. With some good luck, we may have the project completely finished by mid August - but things would have to flow perfectly for that to happen. More likely, it will be done sometime in September," Reid said.