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Yankton Sioux housing authority initiates new, third option

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WAGNER, S.D. ? The Yankton Sioux Tribal Housing Authority is working with a new plan to build homes for tribal members. The first domed home owned by a tribal member under construction on a former home site owned by Joe and Helen Cournoyer.

The tribal members, who were less than six payments away from owning their split-level home, lost it in a February fire. Although the house was insured, it didn't pay for the majority of the contents of the house.

The family has been living in temporary housing the past few months awaiting construction of the new home.

Helen Cournoyer said she bought new carpet and made other improvements just before losing the house she shared with her husband and two young children. 'We lost everything.'

Cournoyer said they chose the dome home because of its durability in storms and energy efficiency. The dome was one of three options offered by the tribal housing authority for replacing their home. The other two were wood-frame units, a single-level ranch-style home or a split-level similar to the home the Cournoyers occupied.

One factor that Mrs. Cournoyer considered was that paint used in the Fiberglas panels is flame retardant, but her overwhelming reason for choosing the dome home was because of her fear of storms. These buildings have withstood earthquakes and hurricanes.

Willing to try a relatively new type of construction offered in the Northern Plains, the Cournoyer family decided to be the first tribal members to erect the Fiberglas dome. A handful have been erected in the area in the past couple years, including two on the Rosebud Sioux Reservation, a home site north of Gregory and two in Valentine, Neb. Another was built in Lewistown, Mont.

Doug Rokahr, contractor with Domes Midwest Inc. of Paige, Neb., said his goal is to erect at least one building on each reservation.

The 1,257-square-foot home will have three bedrooms and look much the same inside as most wood frame homes. Its insulation factor is higher than many other types of construction, Rokahr said.

The Cournoyer home will have an insulation rating of R-28 while the standard in many modular homes is R-19. The increased insulation along with a radiant heating system, which circulates water through a series of pipes, allows homeowners to save on energy costs. Industry experts suggest that savings can be anywhere from 25 percent to 40 percent.

Yankton Sioux Housing Authority Director Joe Abdo said the homebuilder approached the tribe several months ago and the authority considered dome homes an additional option they could offer to tribal members.

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A team of six workers from the tribal housing authority is helping build the home with the idea of building more. Abdo said the dome homes offer energy efficiency and minimal maintenance and provide a low-cost option for the tribe because the authority's staff can erect them. They will order the materials and build, cutting contracting costs.

The tribe is considering using the units for low-income families on the reservation, he said.

'An unbelievable amount of money could be saved' on maintenance costs, Rokahr said.

Each year tribal housing authorities can spend as much as $5 million to maintain homes in reservation communities.

The Fiberglas shell of the home can be up in a matter of hours. With a four- to five-man crew, a dome home can be erected in less than five hours and from start to finish a project can be done within eight weeks. It takes about four weeks to receive the panels once they are ordered.

The dome, without interior work, averages about $30 per square foot. The cost of the average home is between $50 to $80 per square foot while the cost of most conventional homes is between $80 to $150 per square foot, he said.

Tribal governments can also cut insurance costs, he said, because the rates for the dome homes average 15 percent to 20 percent less than normal.

The structures are being used for institutional applications including a clinic. One of the buildings on the Rosebud reservation is a diabetes prevention center.

Rokahr said the dome buildings can be used for detention or jail facilities.

He added the Golden, Miss., company that manufactures the panels is considering putting a plant on a reservation, but there are limitations because of climate considerations. One area under consideration is a site in the Southwest that will provide a warmer climate to properly cure panels.

Rokahr will attend a convention in Hawaii to market the product to Native Americans from across the nation and Canada.

More information about the dome homes can be found at