Aerial view of the Avalon Multipurpose Center.

A recent, aerial view of the Avalon Multipurpose Center as part of the K-12 campus in Avalon, Texas.

Mike South

Twenty years ago, the school board in Avalon, Texas, broke ground on a new Monolithic Dome gymnasium. It would be more than just a place for playing ball; it became a classroom, concert hall, community center, and — when necessary — a storm shelter. No wonder it’s called the Avalon Multipurpose Center.

The idea for a Monolithic Dome gymnasium came from nearby Italy, Texas, where the Italy ISD recently finished their own Italy Multipurpose Center — nicknamed the “Gladiator Coliseum” after their Italy Gladiator mascot.

School administrators from across Texas and nearby states traveled to Italy to see this dome gym that looked more like a college gymnasium than the typical metal “barn.” Beyond the exciting shape and professional interior, they would learn about the energy savings — 50 percent less than standard structures — and the safety and protection the Monolithic Dome provides.

FEMA had only recently produced the first draft of P-361 Safe Room publication for structures with Near Absolute Protection from disasters. And while FEMA suggested incorporating protective ideas into hallways or small classrooms, the Monolithic Dome met most of the requirements by default — as a gym!

In a few years, tornadoes would tear through Moore, Oklahoma, and make tornado safety a national priority, but for school administrators in Texas in 2002, it was a big problem that needed to be solved, now.

Avalon, Texas, is a rural, unincorporated community of around 250 people. It used to be part of the largest cotton-producing area in the world, but that was decades ago. Today, it’s primarily homes and a handful of small businesses.

The Avalon Independent School District serves over 400 area students from prekindergarten to high school graduation. The school is the center of the community where families attend games, concerts, plays, dances, and more.

The competition court inside the Avalon gymnasium.

The gymnasium features a competition court with seating for 720.

Dave South

By 2001, the small school was packed. They needed to expand. The Monolithic Dome was an obvious choice for an athletic center. Rick Crandall designed a simple, elegant building with a gym floor for athletic competitions and physical education along with multiple locker rooms, restrooms, concessions, and a beautiful synthetic glass entryway.

But the real selling point was the building’s safety. In the past, the school would often send kids home if a severe storm approached. Now they move all the students into the dome until the storm passes and the parents come to join them.

Over the years, the school evacuated to the dome multiple times. Small tornadoes have run right through the community several times, including a 2011 tornado that damaged the old gym and ripped off roofs of neighboring homes.

It all started on a cool December morning in 2001 when the school administration broke ground. Monolithic was hired to manage project construction while Dome Technology built the dome shell. Porter Falcon provided the audio engineering with a state-of-the-art digital sound system that gave the building “auditorium” quality sound. By November 2002, the dome gym was complete — several months early and under budget. The dome’s been in continual use ever since.

Overhead view of the dome.

Overhead view of the Monolithic Dome. Construction on the gym started in December 2001 and finished in November 2002 — several months ahead of schedule and under budget.

Mike South