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Monolithic Domes.

The latest in striking, high-function, inexpensive gyms

The Payson (AZ) High School basketball players are a lot like every other team in America. They practice five days a week, play home games in front of enthusiastic crowds and work hard to win their league title.

What makes them different from other basketball teams is the facility in which they play. They are one of the few (but growing) number of teams that play in a Monolithic Dome gym - a steel-reinforced concrete structure with a smooth, round surface shaped like an egg. It is safe, strong, permanent, highly-energy efficient, and economical.

Although Monolithic Domes have been used for everything from homes to churches, they have recently been gaining favor as sports facilities in high school and colleges.

The dome utilizes an Airform single-ply roofing material that resembles a balloon that is attached to a circular foundation and inflated.

Like most traditional gyms, Monolithic Dome sports facilities usually feature high-gloss, hard maplewood flooring. But the seating set-up is often less traditional.

In Payson, for example, the structure is so strong that the spectator seating is actually suspended from the dome ceiling. Payson selected bleacher-type benches because they are economical, but domes feature a variety of seating options ranging from upholstered individual chairs anchored to the floor to plank seating to telescopic folding, collapsible bleachers.

Insulation and steel rebar are then put into place on the interior ceiling of the dome and covered with several layers of high-density concrete.

Because of its straightforward design and architecture, the dome can be put up in substantially less time and cost than a conventional gym.

One of the conspicuous reasons such domes make outstanding sport facilities is their clear span. Because of the inherent strength provided by its shape and construction, the structure does not have to be supported by columns that take up space and block sight lines.

Another advantage of the structure is its energy efficiency. It can save as much as 60% in operating costs (heating and cooling).

Schools Going Round

The Payson H.S. multipurpose sports complex cost $2.8 million to build in 1997, about half of what a traditional building would cost.

The sports dome is 200 feet in diameter and features one competition court that splits into two full-size practice courts, four coaches offices, two sets of boys and girls locker rooms, a wrestling room, weight rooms, and a concessions area.

Emmett (ID) High School was the pioneer in Monolithic Dome gymnasia in 1988. It actually constructed two domes, one houses the school and the other features a gym with seating for 1,500 spectators plus a 150-seat theater.

Ten years later, the Emmett structure remains unscratched by time and continues to cost one-third less to heat than conventional buildings.

The ability to suspend large and sometimes extremely heavy items from a dome's ceiling makes the buildings extremely efficient and versatile.

The Park College dome, for example, has a suspended jogging track. Elevating the track effectively doubles the use of the covered space. Coaches offices, athletic activity areas, and concession stands can be located directly below suspended platforms.

Many Monolithic Dome facilities also feature areas for such activities as wrestling and weight training. Emmett H.S. even uses part of its gym for a music center.

The domed gyms are illuminated in a variety of ways. The most popular types include HID halogen, mercury vapor or sodium. Mercury vapor lighting is recommended for facilities that televise their events.

Payson Athletic Director Barry Smith says he likes the gym's airy feeling and the fact that every seat has a good sight line.

A Super Dome

Until recently, the proven engineering standard for a Monolithic Dome was limited to a diameter of 290 feet - or about 80,000 square feet. But a patent for the newly developed Crenosphere technology now makes it possible to construct a Monolithic Dome as large as 1000 feet in diameter - or 785,000 square feet of clear span.

Like the Monolithic Dome, the Crenosphere is energy-efficient and less expensive to maintain. And it also utilizes an Airform in its construction.

This newly patented construction method will make covered stadiums and super large arenas far more affordable than they have been in the past.

The Monolithic Dome has been described as the building of the future available today. Administrators are quick to grasp the operating cost advantages. And athletic directors working with limited budgets appreciate the lower cost of the domes.

Of course there will always be traditionalists who will refuse to warm up to the unusual appearance and round shape of the Monolithic Dome. But as Ron Noble, Emmett H.S.'s Assistant Superintendent says, "Most people who have never been inside these domes think they won't like it. But they change their opinion immediately once they get up close."

Taxpayers are always impressed by the low cast of these handsome, useful structures.

Budget was a big consideration in Mountainair, NM. With nearly 80% of its students in the free-lunch program, Mountainair is one of the nation's poorest school districts.

School officials have approved a small Monolithic Dome that will seat 500. The school's 40-year-old cinderblock gym will continue to be used for practice.

"With junior high, IV, and varsity teams plus a girls athletics program, kids aren't getting home until 9 or 10 at night," says school board member James J. Hayes. "But all we could possibly raise for building the gym was $900,000."

The Monolithic Dome meets both the athletic and budgetary needs of the district.

High schools are not the only ones building such domes. Park College in Parkville, MO, is building twin domes for its new Sports Event Center. Since the college has one of the most extensive underground campuses in the world, the new domes will be partially buried to connect with the existing underground campus.

A Model Building

If every car had to be designed from scratch, few could afford to buy one. Obviously that is not exactly the case with buildings, but for school districts that are having trouble coming up with the money to build a Monolithic Dome, there is a solution: pre-engineered modular gyms, known as pods.

The economies stem from the ability to spread the cost of the design over many buildings. Besides the savings from these so-called canned designs, a school district can also save from repetition of construction. Practice doesn't always make perfect in the building process, but it does help.

Pods come in all shapes and sizes, and can be customized using a wide variety of options. There's the deluxe gymnasium pod, modeled after the gym built in Payson. With more than 38,000 square feet, it is best for large schools and communities.

The Sequoia Pod, with just over 11,000 square feet, is designed for smaller schools, or for a second gym at large schools. It includes a music room, stage, telescoping auditorium, seating, a service kitchen and concession areas.

Finally, there's the mini-gym pod, with 6,600 square feet. It is ideal for a grade school or junior high, and can be used as a practice gym.
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Article Details
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Author:South, David B.
Publication:Coach and Athletic Director
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 1999
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