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North Carolina Gets First Monolithic Dome Church

February 3, 2003

by Freda Parker

Dome amidst spires

If there's anything that New Bern -- North Carolina's second oldest city -- might boast of, it would probably be its impressive list of firsts and its sense of tradition. Founded in 1710 and settled by Swiss and German adventurers, New Bern had the area's first postal service, first printing press and first celebration of George Washington's birthday. As for tradition, New Bern claims three historic districts with 18th century structures. It also calls itself a town of churches, whose skyline is replete with spires.

Now, thanks to New Song United Methodist Church, New Bern has another first, but it's not traditional. It's a Monolithic Dome, 104' x 38', flanked by three conventional structures or wings and a memorial garden area. From the air, the entire complex looks like a giant cross.

Church seeks architectural uniqueness

Pastor Jeff Severt said, "The reason we went with a dome in the first place is because we are a different kind of church, and in our area architecture almost assuredly conveys denominational affiliation. A steel frame building conveys a Pentecostal Church and brick churches and white wood churches are traditional. But we were looking for something very different because we are a contemporary church. We draw the best from tradition, but we use contemporary music and video. We'll do a responsive reading or a creed together, in the traditional way, but then we'll jump into a remake of a Motown song. We do dramas and skits -- lots of humor and music with our teaching and preaching. Really, we try to keep people guessing. But everything in our worship service is woven together, so the whole service is the message."

Severt founded New Song in 1998. For four years, while the original congregation worshipped in the YMCA, it began growing. Then, with the completion of its Monolithic Dome, New Song's membership grew even more. "In terms of professing members," Severt said, "we have over 300 now and over 500 people in average worship attendance."

New Song finds Monolithic Dome and likes what it sees

Alton Sibley, chairman of the church building committee, said, "Since we are not conventional, we were looking for a design that would fit our signature, so to speak. Our committee looked at metal buildings and brick and even a tentlike structure that seemed to lack permanency. Then, one evening I was thumbing through one of my magazines, and an advertisement from Monolithic jumped off the page and right into my face. Ironically, I seldom look at ads. But I looked at this one and saw the website address, and I went over to my computer and called it up. I printed pictures of those nice structures and carried them to our next meeting."

Pastor Severt added, "When Mr. Sibley came across the MDI website, that was it. That's all it took. I went to the website and looked at some of the churches already built. Then I saw Rick Crandall's concept of Grand Meadow School, and I said, 'That is our campus, right there.' And I printed that out. To date, with modifications, our architect, Tom Kincaid, adapted a similar, basic plan to fit our 24-acre, property layout. So our long-range goals are somewhat similar to Grand Meadow's. We've got big dreams, and it was Monolithic's website, itself, that did it."

Building Committee contacts MDI

Sibley and his committee began working on drawings and a Word Picture. "The sketches were kind of crude by me doing them," Sibley said, "but we got to where we needed to be. We sent it all to Monolithic for feasibility. We got a response that it was very feasible. MDI put us in touch with Rick Crandall, who visited, talked with us and put us in contact with Tom Kincaid. And Tom did a really good job."

Local Building Inspector previews Monolithic concept

But before beginning the design process, Sibley took his sketches and a copy of the Roundup to New Bern's Building Inspector and told him, "This is a new concept for this part of the country. I would like you to look this over. This (a Monolithic Dome) is what we're getting ready to do. And when we get to the point where we need a permit issued, I would like you to be familiar with what we're attempting."

Sibley said, "That meeting was most helpful. As a matter of fact, they (Building Inspectors) even got excited about it and anxious to see it go up."

New Song gets its dome

When New Song went out for bids, they found that many established contractors, accustomed to the conventional, were not interested in dealing with a dome that they didn't understand, particularly one with conventional structures attached to it. But David Marshall was.

Marshall had 15 years of building experience, and he owned Tailored Properties, a general contracting firm begun in 1995 that specialized in light commercial and custom home construction. Marshall also served on New Song's Building Committee.

Asked if he had heard of Monolithic Domes prior to New Song's interest, Marshall said, "I had not. I had brief information that I read in a builder magazine, but certainly not enough to understand the concept, so I started researching."

When the Building Committee began interviewing local contractors, Marshall said that he was the only one comfortable enough to take on the project. "I did my homework, so I had a pretty good grasp of it," he said. "And I bid on it with the others and got the job."

Marshall then began working closely with architect Tom Kincaid. "We were able to circumvent a lot of problems in advance, in terms of connections, openings and positionings," Marshall said. He subcontracted Dome Technology, Inc. of Idaho Falls, Idaho to do the shell construction.

Describing himself as "kind of a one-man-band," Marshall said, "I like to be involved in all aspects of a job, so I can control it." With the New Song project, he wanted "to make sure that everything was right for what I needed to do once Dome Technology left. It was just some stuff that had to be exact."

According to both Marshall and Sibley the project went very well. Marshall said, "We were on budget, on time, on target. I was very pleased with Dome Technology. They did a crackerjack job. All that worked out real well."

Sibley said, "David Marshall did a good job. He was there during the entire construction and worked well with Dome Technology, who really knew what they were doing.

"From permit to moving into the dome" Sibley added, "it took just 169 days and the skill of 258 people, who worked on this project, but not all at one time."

Community responds to Monolithic Dome

Construction of the dome generated a lot of interest in New Bern. Pastor Severt said, "We're outside the city limits, so we're not part of that skyline with all its church spires. But there is quite a buzz out there about this congregation and about this particular facility. They're very intrigued. At first, everybody was calling it 'the bubble,' but everyone who gets over here to see it is very impressed. It's like 'WOW! This is nice.' That's the response. We're a breath of fresh air to this traditional community."

Pastor discusses New Song's future plans

According to Severt, this first Monolithic Dome, which will serve as sanctuary for the next five years, constitutes Phase I of a seven-phase, 20-year building plan. He said, "What we have done so far is part of a larger strategy to make this a global thing, reaching church-seeking people and helping them become fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ. We want a Christian school for children and an adult training center, not only for the Bible and Christian ministry, but for new church development. We want to help duplicate what we've done by teaching others to do it. We want to be a hub for the global expansion of the gospel of Jesus Christ."

To that end, New Song is researching the feasibility of Internet broadcasting. Severt said, "We set up this facility with lighting to be compatible with broadcast. But cable and satellite may be at a saturation point for televised ministry. We're researching the Internet as a real ministry opportunity.

"This project has been a wonderful journey for us," Severt concluded. "Just the interest in this new type of building has done as much for our outreach marketing as anything else we've done."

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