Elkhart residents were surprised Monday at the nearly 100-foot inflatable dome sitting less than half-a-mile away from city hall.
The monolithic dome was commissioned by the El Dorado Agricultural Products to store and distribute granular, chemical fertilizer. El Dorado supports feed suppliers, and supplies farms in the area with fertilizer and seed.
The giant balloon is the first step in the construction of a concrete dome, which experts say is a safer way to store the highly-combustible fertilizer.
Jeff Taylor of Taylor's Landscaping, contracted to convert the old, wood-framed buildings where the fertilizer had been stored, into storehouses for other agricultural supplies, told the Herald-Press Tuesday the new building design came out of tragedy.
In 2013, a chemical plant explosion in West, Texas killed 15 people, and destroyed hundreds of homes. Much of the damage, Taylor said, was caused by flying debris from the fertilizer storehouses.
“In the highly unlikely event there's an explosion [in the dome], the force will travel up, not out,” Taylor said of the dome. “Plus, there's no worry of environmental erosion, like contaminating the soil, or groundwater. That was always a concern with the old storage method.”
Headquartered in Arkansas, El Dorado has domes at other locations around Texas, including Bryan and Italy, but the Elkhart dome is their largest one to date.
Scheduled to be completed in March, the giant igloo looks a bit out of place among the “old-timey” aesthetic for which Elkhart is known.
Elkhart Mayor Jennifer McCoy told the Herald-Press the location of the dome keeps it from breaking with the look of the town – and regardless, safety trumps all else.
“I applaud El Dorado's commitment to public safety,” McCoy said. “That is so much more important than if it looks modern.”
Elkhart City Administrator Judith Cantrell said she is excited about the growth of a local company, and the giant dome-storage unit is a sign of things to come for Elkhart.
“We're growing,” she said. “This is just one step in Elkhart's growth. We're on our way.”