One of a Kind

As students watched from an adjacent outdoor basketball court, the dome on the new gym at Wasuma Elementary School rose from the ground Thursday morning.

It took about 20 minutes for the dome to raise from the ground With generator-powered large fans, blowing air into the 8,630 square-foot structure, the monolithic dome was in place in about 20 minutes.

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

The monolithic dome shaped gym is 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 restrooms. An electronic scoreboard, sound system and automatic screen and projector will be available for assemblies, dances, sporting events, and community gatherings.

Bass Lake Joint Union Elementary School District Superintendent Glenn Reid said, although the dome will be completed by early July, the interiors (bathrooms, stage) are not expected to be done by late September.

Reid was at the school Thursday morning.

“I am thrilled to see the progress on the gymnasium at Wasuma,” Reid said. “The inflation of the dome was spectacular and the view on the inside is absolutely thrilling. We are looking forward to the completion of this project in the fall.”

According to Construction Developer and Project Manager Glen Lauterbach, there were some early delays with the project that had to do with the lack of experience the Division of State Architects (DSA) has with approving dome-style buildings for municipal school projects. Now that those hurdles have been cleared, the project is moving along on schedule.

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.

The idea to build a dome style gym came about during a community meeting in 2006 in which attendees discussed a list of projects to be constructed using a new $15 million bond. 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.

After the completion of the major Oakhurst Elementary School remodeling project and other district projects — the district was left with about $1 million for the Wasuma gym, however, Reid knew the cost of the gym would be well over that amount.

“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 just over $2 million, a savings of about $1.5 million for a conventional gym of its size.

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.

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 guests during 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. Lauterbach 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 thing 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 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.

“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.