Dome school groundbreaking set

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 29, 2001

GRAND MEADOW – The Grand Meadow superintendent of public schools has this advice printed on a wall of his office: Don’t be typical.

Thursday, March 29, 2001

GRAND MEADOW – The Grand Meadow superintendent of public schools has this advice printed on a wall of his office: Don’t be typical.

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The new Grand Meadow monolithic dome school is anything but typical.

Just wait and see.

Groundbreaking for the new K-12 school is tentatively planned for April 16, the day after Easter.

The symbolism should not go ignored. The religious holiday celebrates the resurrection and the joy that followed Christendom’s sadness.

When the five domes of the new school take shape, there should be joy to celebrate in Grand Meadow.

Just wait and see.

At a special meeting of the Grand Meadow Board of Education on March 21, four construction contracts in the first stages of the new school construction were awarded.

According to Superintendent Bruce Klaehn, "This action came after results of the dome rebids – opened earlier that same day – brought the project within the financial abilities of the district to proceed with the project."

School district families learned of the action from the superintendent in a recent newsletter.

"A total of 140 different contractors bid on 36 different bid divisions for the project, which demonstrates a very strong and competitive response from the construction community," Klaehn said.

The exact final bid for the project is still unknown at this time. Contractor interviews, minor changes in the scope of the project and the potential for additional rebids to, the superintendent said, "realize additional savings" could happen.

However, Klaehn told Grand Meadow families, "We can now project that it will come in very close to a final price tag of $12 million, which includes a three percent contingency allowance."

The estimate represents a slight increase from the district’s original estimates, primarily due to the addition of the geothermal heating and cooling system as well as some inflation factors in certain parts of the project.

"The additional costs for the geothermal system will be covered through a low-interest loan from Alliant Energy to be repaid over five years from the significant savings realized in the use of this system," Klaehn said.

E&V Consultants of Minneapolis will serve as the construction manager of the project. Bid specifications were sent to more than 200 contractors in the Upper Midwest.

The five domes will be built on-site, but their outer foam layers will be assembled at Italy, Texas. Two of the 150-foot diameter domes will be constructed at a time until all five domes and their three connectors are in place for the 100,000-square-foot facility to be built on 40 acres of land along Highway 16 at Grand Meadow.

The 400 students and 30 teachers, plus support staff, will have an entirely new facility for classrooms, media center, gymnasium, cafeteria and multipurpose center with a stage.

If the April 16 groundbreaking is not delayed by weather, site work will begin the same day. The construction schedule targets completion in time for the start of classes in the fall of 2002.

Just wait and see.

The project dates back to 1992, when a district task force was assembled to examine the long-range future of the Grand Meadow school district.

When it was determined that Grand Meadow as well as neighboring school districts LeRoy-Ostrander, Southland and Stewartville would continue to operate independently, another task force went to work in 1997 to examine the district’s options, including remodeling the 1916-vintage building and other new additions at the school site in the center of the community.

A year later, the task force and school board members visited six recent school construction projects. By the spring of 1998, the architects and engineers told school officials it would cost $6 million to remodel the aging and by modern standards of health and safety inadequate facility or $12 million to build a new school. Two months later, revised estimates pushed the renovation costs to $6.5 million.

It was at this time, the task force and school board members were presented with the concept of a monolithic dome school.

An artist’s rendering of the Grand Meadow monolithic dome school graces the cover of the current edition of the aptly-named magazine "Roundup-The Journal of the Monolithic Dome Institute."

"It’s not often that a school district gets a plan approved and a grant from its state legislature for twice the money the school district asks for, but Grand Meadow ISD No. 495 did," gushes an article in the magazine.

There are other similar stories in the magazine for new monolithic dome schools at Sarasota, Fla., Texhoma, Okla., Hector, Ark. and Caledonia, Mo., plus reports on monolithic dome schools, gymnasiums, community centers and disaster shelters now in use.

While a magazine published by the creators of the building technology can be accused of its own biases the success stories about the super-insulated, steel-reinforced concrete structures are the "proof in the pudding."

Energy savings alone is said to be enough to convince doubting-Thomases, domes work.

When a bond referendum was conducted in the Grand Meadow School District in September 1998, the majority of the district’s voters agreed. The measure passed by a 496-322 vote.

The failure of the district to obtain necessary funding from the Minnesota Legislature to supplement the $8 million approved by voters on supporters’ first try did not deter the project.

The supporters returned during the 2000 legislative session and with the pushing and prodding by area legislators, state Sen. Kenric Scheevel and state Rep. Greg Davids, the $3 million in state funding was approved.

Now, Scheevel and Davids are preparing to attend the April 16 groundbreaking along with other key legislators and state Education Commissioner Christine Jax. Gov. Jesse Ventura and Lt. Gov. Mae Schunk also have been invited.

It seems everyone is curious about the Grand Meadow school project.

Soon local cable television subscribers will be able to "see" the new monolithic dome school on the town’s Web site.

A computer-assisted video offers head-on and aerial views of the school.

According to Klaehn, everyone is impatient to actually view something so radical.

"Another school district called late last week about how our dome school project was going and I think interest will grow a lot once construction begins," Klaehn said.

The superintendent recently visited a dome building on the campus of Park College at Kansas City, Mo., to view and inspect still another dome building.

His enthusiasm for the project has never waned. "I feel very happy for all of the people who believed in this for so long and worked so hard to make it come true," he said.

"This school is our chance to show people a better way to build a school," he said.

A new Grand Meadow Education Foundation has been formed to raise money for some of the "special little things," as the superintendent described them for the new school. They include a sound system, music and athletic equipment and an elementary playground system.

The Grand Meadow agriculture science department is studying a landscaping plan for the new school grounds.

Alliant Energy is designing the football field size area for the geothermal heating/cooling system now that soil borings have revealed the area along Highway 16 is suitable.

There will be some need to import fill for the site, but that is not a problem.

Next month, district officials and the construction manager will examine how the new school can be wired and cable installed to ensure the building’s adaptability to any future electronic needs.

"We want to be sure to do all the things now that will be permanently needed at the new facility and to have the potential to do more later," he said.

Everything now in use at the existing K-12 facility, that can be used in the new facility, will be salvaged, but essentially everything will be new in the new school.

That does not mean the current facility and its students and faculty are being ignored.

The district recently added another technological innovation in the form of a portable laptop lab, which makes 24 laptop computers available to any area wired for their use in the existing school.

Every day another student or faculty member as well as visitors to the school inquires about some aspect of the project so eager is everyone to see progress made.

The school board’s meeting room is filled with blueprints, artists’ drawings, plans and specifications and more materials related to the project.

There are a lot of people waiting to see the first dome school project of its kind in Minnesota.

Located only eight miles from Interstate 90, the school is expected to become a magnet for families working in Rochester or Austin to consider locating at Grand Meadow. The new school’s impact on the ever-important quality of life issues for a community cannot be discounted.

Expect a large crowd at the April 16 groundbreaking. This is a school project the entire state of Minnesota and its neighbors are watching wherever the decision to renovate something old or building something new is being debated.

And, when the five domes are erected maybe the remaining skeptics will believe in what they see along Highway 16.

The superintendent hasn’t forgotten the district’s families’ referendum vote of confidence.

"What I really feel best about is that the district is making good use of the tax dollars. To be able to turn $8 million into a new $12 million school is quite an accomplishment," he said.

Call Lee Bonorden at 434-2232 or e-mail him at