Dome construction classes offer alternatives to conventional framed box

Monolithic domes like this one on Route 66 are gaining in popularity for residential, commercial and educational uses.

YUKON – Verlin Fairchild’s focus has always been squarely on round objects.

Fairchild, 52, of Yukon, is one of a growing number of people who see beauty outside the box. He is convinced the possibilities are endless for monolithic domes. Dome homes. Dome schools. Dome businesses. Dome shelters. Dome gardens. Dome sweet dome!

Fairchild is a certified monolithic dome designer and builder. He teaches an introductory Monolithic Dome construction class at Canadian Valley Technology Center’s Holt Campus.

Those who attend this course are eligible for Levels 1, 2 and 3. Graduates are adequately prepared for monolithic dome building or support business. 

Fairchild, a 1981 Canadian Valley graduate in Architectural and Mechanical Drafting and Design, the precursor to Computer Aided Drafting, has secured permission to use the patent owned by the don of domes, David South. 

South is founder of the Monolithic Dome Institute in central Texas (monolithic.com). He is permitting Canadian Valley students to use his copyrighted training materials.

He developed the balloon-like Airform structure that is the key to monolithic dome construction. The Airform makes dome building affordable for any budget. 

South has built several monolithic dome subdivisions near his home of Italy, Texas, a 45-minute drive south of Dallas on Interstate 35.

DOME SCHOOLS
Dome fever has spread to the Sooner State. Eight small rural school districts in Oklahoma have built domes for mostly athletic and some educational uses as well.

The $3.75 million Hinton Coliseum opened in 2006. It is a 148-foot diameter dome structure that serves as the main school gymnasium, rising 50 feet above its floor. It holds 1,400 for basketball and nearly twice that while doubling as a massive shelter. In fact, all 2,200 residents will fit safely inside the arena in the event of a tornado.

Beggs, Buffalo and Texhoma also have Monolithic Dome structures on school grounds, as do Dale, Dibble and Geronimo. 

Perhaps Oklahoma’s best dome success story can be found 45 minutes east of Tulsa on U.S. 412 in Mayes County. Locust Grove school officials built an elementary and high school comprised of interconnected monolithic domes.

The high school gym also serves as the community’s storm shelter. Superintendent Dr. David Cash has stated publicly that he prefers domes for all of the district’s school new buildings. He touts cost savings in initial construction and in energy savings besides the fact that all of them are tornado-safe structures.

NO BEARING WALLS
Fairchild admits the unconventional circular shape, which makes domes virtually tornado-proof, is also the main reason monolithic domes have been slow in gaining widespread acceptance with housewives and homeowners associations. 

“People do not know their possibilities with a dome,” he said. “This is a different concept than a wood frame house. Domes are lower in maintenance costs and offer greater energy efficiency. Plus, (domes) withstand earthquakes, tornados, bombs and fires.” 

The Round Barn in Arcadia (built in 1898) and the Gold Dome at NW 23 and Classen Boulevard in Oklahoma City (built in 1958), are historically significant examples of dome structures that have gained landmark status as tourist attractions. Both are also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Rome’s Pantheon is an ancient monolithic dome partially covered by a rectangular granite portico. The Pantheon has been in use for 1,500 years. 

The icon of Istanbul, Hagia Sophia is a series of monolithic domes under construction for over 900 years and has withstood magnitude 7.0 earthquakes.

THE AIRFORM
The use of patented Airform technology reduces building costs, Fairchild said. Monolithic domes all start with the Airform, which is an inflatable nylon- and vinyl-weaved bladder, that is custom built for each project. 

First, compressed air inflates the Airform membrane that is attached to a prepared concrete footing. Inside, the dome is sprayed with insulating material. A rebar cage provides structure for layer upon layer of sprayed concrete. 

Canadian Valley’s class provides the knowledge for monolithic dome projects of all sizes. Fairchild said handicap-accessible storm shelters and shops seem to be the popular choice for small dome structures. Canadian County Treasurer Carolyn Leck built such a shelter beside her El Reno home in 2010. 

He said an economy monolithic dome without exterior cosmetics costs about $64 per square foot. Dome homes do not result in significant construction savings, averaging roughly $105 per square foot or more, but they have potentially huge savings in energy, maintenance and insurance costs over time. 

Canadian Valley’s monolithic dome Introduction class costs $19 and is offered four times this fall. It is comprised of two 3-hour sessions, with breaks. The next available class is Aug. 18. Additional classes are offered in September and October and November. 

The Level 1 class meets twice each week, beginning in mid-August and costs $189. 

Each of the three Canadian Valley campuses offers dozens of other short-term courses in computers, health, automotive and special interests. For more information, visit cvtech.edu. Fall classes are enrolling now.