Published 08/22/14

This slideshow offers a look at the unique angles and perspectives created by the work on the Unistructure dome throughout the summer.

Dome sweet dome: Summer construction projects include Koffler Rotunda

The iconic Bryant Koffler Rotunda dome atop the Unistructure has been a landmark since 1971, as long as the campus has been in Smithfield. Who hasn’t given a visitor directions with the words, “That’s in the Unistructure, the building with the big glass dome in the middle”?

Factually speaking, however, the dome is not glass. The panels are made of a special acrylic – no longer easily available – that after several decades had begun to show its age, cracking and splitting from sun exposure, and leaking in heavy rain. “It’s not uncommon for this type of deterioration to occur," said Mike Carosotto, senior consultant at GEI Consultants Inc., which was retained to assess the situation and offer cost-effective solutions. “We looked into everything from replacing with a completely new glass dome to retrofitting it with new thicker acrylic panels.”

Each alternative posed challenges. For example, glass replacements, while offering better insulation, are much heavier than the current panels. “When analyzing the effects of the increased weight, we found that a glass dome would require a structural retrofit to the existing building to be in compliance with the more modern Rhode Island building code,” said Carosotto. “Based on a cost/benefit analysis the decision was made to retrofit the dome with new acrylic.”

The design team found Skylight Specialists in Colorado, one of the few companies in the country that specialize in this type of work, and ordered new acrylic panels. These new panels have a greater dome height, are thicker, and have a dark bronze tint  – all of which will add up to cost savings in the long run by discouraging snow accumulation and encouraging better insulation. They also rest in the current framework, which minimized construction time.

Work began on July 7 and was completed in mid-August.