That isn't an igloo complex you see as you drive through Grand Meadow, Minn. -- that's Grand Meadow Public Schools.

At first glance, it isn’t the cost savings people notice about the Grand Meadow Schools in Minnesota, it’s the unique and very different construction featuring its five domes.

No, that isn’t an igloo complex you see as you drive through Grand Meadow — that’s Grand Meadow Public Schools.

The 103,000-square-foot, 10-year-old school building is comprised of five monolithic domes that, according to Grand Meadow school officials, is much more efficient than the previous school building.

“It’s a little bit futuristic, even now,” said Marlin Fay, school board member.

The opportunity to build a domed school didn’t arise until the night more than a decade ago that the school board was scheduled to approve school building renovations. Fay said the renovation project was ready to go, but the domed school seemed worthy of further research.

“I thought, ‘Wow, that’s really cool,'” Fay said. “Especially the environmental efficiency of it.”

The board decided not to vote on the renovation project that night, and soon the monolithic, windowless dome design was on the ballot.

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Part of the appeal was the cost of constructing it. Price estimates indicated a domed school would cost $8 million to build, whereas the renovation alone would cost $6.5 million. On top of that, constructing a new conventional building would cost nearly twice as much as the domed school.

“The efficiency of the building, the lower cost of the building … we basically let (the community) make up their minds,” Fay said.

Slinky fields forever

While the domed school’s computerized heating and cooling system is easier to run for Head Custodian Karl Hoefs, he said the efficiency of the system is the most impressive benefit.

“It’s kind of like a refrigerator,” Hoefs said. “When the air is on, you’re cooling the inside. Then you reverse it so the warm air is blowing inside and the cool air is blowing out.”

Because the warm air is generated by energy stored underground in 27 miles of underground piping — called slinky fields — it takes much less energy to heat the domes than a regular building. That also means less air is flowing into the school.