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Dome on the range

Matt Zalaznick
Bishop Nevin's Academy, Sarasota, Fla.
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A dome, rather than the traditionally boxy building, keeps heat and power bills lower, is cheaper to take care of and gives interior designers far more flexibility, says Eagle-Vail resident Murray Heminger, a local representative of the Texas-based Monolithic Dome Institute.

“The only downside, if there is a downside, is nobody likes change and they’re going to build what they’re used to,” Heminger says.

The conference center, approved by voters last fall, will be built between the Lionshead parking garage and the Dobson Ice Arena. Architects, however, are far from drawing up the first set of blueprints for a building many in town say will give a serious boost to the local economy.



A committee made up of local elected officials, business owners and residents is in the process of selecting a firm that, over the next three months, will determine the scope of the building.

The firm will determine the size of the conference center and the cost of construction, among other key details. After that, the town will seek a firm to design the center. Heminger, along with anybody else with an idea, could make a proposal.



Doomed dome?

But a dome may be a hard sell, says Vail Town Councilman Rod Slifer, who is chairman of the conference center committee.

“My perception is a dome is going to have a tough getting approved in the center of Vail,” says Slifer, adding he’s only broadly familiar with the dome concept.



The dome would likely meet intense opposition from the town’s Design Review Board, which scrutinizes –often rather intensively – all building and renovation projects.

“I haven’t seen what they’re proposing, but if it’s what I think it is, I would think we would never get it approved by the Design Review Board,” Slifer says.

But Eagle-Vail architect Rudi Fisher, who has study the so-called “monolithic” domes, says the town needs an open mind.

“It’s a different idea, but it’s kind of a neat idea,” Fisher says. “It seems to have a lot of advantages.”

Some examples of domes or curved buildings are the famous Sydney Opera House, the Superdome in New Orleans and Genessee’s infamous “clam house,” just outside of Denver on Interstate 70, Fisher said.

And a dome also could be designed to blend into Vail’s alpine landscape, Fisher said.

“The challenge would be to create mountain architecture around the dome that makes it harmonious with the surrounding neighborhood,” Fisher said.

Heminger says domes have been successful around the country. Schools –including one in Aspen – churches and sports arenas have all been designed as domes, he says.

“There are a lot of domes all over the place – in every state capitol, there’s a dome,” Heminger says. “It’s just a matter of change. People have to get used to a dome.”

Budget buidling

While construction costs are about the same, power bills for domes are sometimes 50 percent to 75 percent less than traditional buildings. And because the domes are traditionally fire proof, insurance is much less expensive, Heminger says.

And interior decorators can also be more innovative because there are no inside walls holding up a roof, he says.

“The beautiful part about it is you don’t have any bearing walls to hold up the roof, so you can go wild with any kind of architecture,” Heminger says. “This is wide-open.”

Heminger says Vail should consider a dome in planning other new buildings in town, such as the proposed West Vail fire station.

“I talked to a firefighter about it and he said, “We want it to look like a fire station,'” Heminger said. “That’s no problem. We can make it look like a fire station.”

Domes also have been used as affordable housing, resulting in rents as low as $125 to $150 a month, Heminger says, adding a slightly dubious endorsement for his design.

“It’s unlimited what you can do,” he says. “A lot of people are closed-minded – they don’t like change. But once they know about the benefits, then they start changing their mind about what it looks like.”

Matt Zalaznick can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 606, or via e-mail at mzalaznick@vaildaily.com.


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