EDUCATION + SCHOOLS

As some Utah school populations dwindle, could dome schools help?

Dec 5, 2023, 5:30 AM | Updated: 6:55 am

Image of four monolithic domes in Genola, Utah County, designed by Leland Gray and built as a facil...

FILE: These four monolithic domes in Genola, Utah County, were designed by Leland Gray and built as a facility for Utah’s migrant workers. It includes a Head Start school for children and various educational programs for adults. (Monolithic.org)

(Monolithic.org)

SALT LAKE CITY — Would you send your children to schools shaped like a dome? What if switching meant saving you money as a taxpayer?

What if those dome-shaped schools could be repurposed when a community ages out of an elementary school? 

Or if they could withstand earthquakes?

Domed schools are built from 100% concrete, which is cheaper than conventional schools. And the idea was born right here in Utah.

What are dome schools?

Almost ten years ago, former KSL producer Candice Madsen traveled to Oklahoma along with KSL NewsRadio host Debbie Dujanovic. They were reporting on dome schools being built in Tornado Alley.

Locust Grove {Oklahoma} is a small community sitting in Tornado Alley without a lot of taxpayer money to burn. So it set out to build the safest school possible at an affordable price. “I know they are safe, from active shooter to earthquake to tornado to any other disasters. This is the safest building you can be in.” Pawhuska Public Schools Superintendent David Cash

Dujanovic described the classrooms inside the domes as “conventional classrooms” except for the curved walls and ceilings. 

“It’s kind of modern, futuristic looking,” Madsen said. “They’re a little weird because we’re not used to it. They definitely stand out. So I guess that the beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

According to the manufacturer, Monolithic Domes can survive tornadoes, hurricanes, and earthquakes. They are fire-resistant, termite-proof, and rot-proof, according to monolithic.org.

As for the shape, the manufacturers point to the Pantheon in Rome. Created in 126 A.D. it’s the oldest ancient structure with an intact roof that is still in use today.

Comparing costs

On average, building an elementary school costs $295 per square foot. Elementary school construction is generally the least expensive type of education building to construct. At these lower-grade levels, the technological requirements are generally lower. Also, athletic spaces require less infrastructure, according to levelset.com. High school construction comes in at $395/sq. foot.

But the KSL team reported almost ten years ago that “both the elementary and the high school in Locust Grove cost $94 a square foot to build. … In Utah, the new Olympus High School cost $174 a square foot.”

If the proportionate costs are the same from 10 years ago, a domed elementary school would cost about $159/sq. foot — a savings of $136 per square foot.

Utah has a dome school in Genola, Utah County. The structure with four monolithic domes includes a Head Start school and also serves as a facility for migrant workers.

Related: Salt Lake City School District school closure recommendations

Dave & Dujanovic can be heard weekdays from 9 a.m. to noon. on KSL NewsRadio. Users can find the show on the KSL NewsRadio website and app, as well as Apple Podcasts and Google Play. 

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Send it to the KSL NewsRadio team here.

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As some Utah school populations dwindle, could dome schools help?