Artist rendering of the new biodome
Artist rendering of the new biodome
Author: Marshall Green
Date: April 1, 2015
Categories: Campus Life

New dome to create a semi-tropical environment amid harsh northeast winters

Houghton College announced today that it has secured a donor gift of $60 million to fulfill the needed funding gap in the $84 million bio-dome fundraising campaign. The single $60 million gift comes from a donor who wishes to remain anonymous.

 The idea for the bio-dome came from an aircraft hangar at an old Soviet military airbase near Berlin in Krausnick, Germany that was converted into a tropical resort of about 194 million cubic feet. 

“Approximately 10 years ago, the college had heard news of the tropical island resort in Germany, and they were very intrigued,” commented vice president for student life Rob Pool. “So the question arose … ‘Why not us?’ We began researching and found a technologies company that was developing this breakthrough material called LPP. From that point on, we knew we were on to something and just had to raise the funds necessary.”

Unlike the German hangar, this dome will be made with 100 percent space-age ultra-light transparent/translucent material that will make the skeleton structure virtually unseen, allowing for an unobstructed view of the sky.

Because of the interior semi-tropical climate resulting in an average year-round temperature of 74 degrees Fahrenheit and a consistent humidity of 56 percent, the college will drastically reduce its energy consumption by removing the need to power current heating and cooling systems. This, coupled with the college’s new 2.5 megawatt solar array that was activated on March 25, will almost completely remove the college’s energy needs from the public grid.

The dome will be constructed from a new technology called Living Polycarbonate Plastic (LPP). LPP allows for atmospheric gasses to penetrate the material but has a 92.3 percent resistance ratio for liquids and solids such as rain, hail and snow. In short, moisture can seep through the dome in its gaseous state but not in its solid or liquid state. This will create a self-sustaining semi-tropical environment under the dome even in the cold extremes of a northeast winter. The environmental concept is based largely on greenhouse physics.

The molded panels are formed with a patented technology involving press molds that utilize extreme pressure and heat. Once formed, the 30 by 30-foot LPP panels are both transparent and virtually indestructible. Additionally, 75 percent of the panel material is produced from first-generation recyclable products, which helps to ensure environmental responsibility and reduces project costs by over 82 percent per panel.

“Without this new technology, this type of project would have never been cost feasible,” commented Jeff Babbitt, director of marketing and communications for Houghton College. “Dealing with extreme winters like this past year has always been something we have wanted to overcome. Of course, we could not just relocate a 123-year-old campus, but now we have the opportunity to create a ‘new campus’ right where we are.”

Each winter, the college spends hundreds of thousands of dollars on snow removal along with the salting and clearing of ice from roads and walkways. The employee overtime and supply costs are a tremendous strain on the college. The new dome will alleviate the majority of these costs, allowing the institution to refocus these budget allocations to bolster the academic experience.

The development of the bio-dome will be in two stages starting with the main campus, which includes the quad, 10 buildings including classroom space, residence halls, and parking structures. A second and smaller dome will enclose the arts building, gymnasium and the new $23 million Kerr-Pegula Athletic Complex that opened in September of 2014. The school has commented that the ski hill, equestrian center and solar array will remain outside of the dome.