A shiny, new dome at the Lafarge Plant near Exshaw is catching the eyes of motorists on the Trans-Canada Highway as they drive by and many are wondering what it is being used for.

Lafarge constructed the dome over the last year to store material and to add to its manufacturing process.

Jim Bachmann is Lafarge’s Exshaw Plant Manager and says the dome serves a number of functions.

“The first and most important function is to keep the material dry and out of the elements and out of the wind. We pay a lot for this material and we don’t want it to be airborne and going into our neighbours so first and foremost it’s built to protect the material, secondly it serves a good blending function for us,” he said.

The dome is used to stack material on one end and then reclaim it from the other end and it has raised the curiosity of area residents.

“It’s definitely created a lot of buzz, a lot of curiosity in the communities,” said Bachmann.

The facility is 111 metres in diameter and about 35 meters tall and holds about 52,000 tons of material.

Bachmann says the design was no accident and that the dome came from China and was brought over last year.

“It’s a pretty standard design for these types of structures around the world,” he said. “The construction is really unique, we started last year about this time, 2015, and we didn’t build the structure first, what you see is the result of building everything at ground level, then we’d build one level, we’d raise it up, build another level, raise it up, build the next level and eventually, after 21 or 22 levels, it ended up in the dome shape that you see today.”

Phil Allen is the project manager and says the aluminum dome was the lowest cost system overall and was also the safest option.

“By far, doing it the way we did, there was minimal work at heights. Essentially we built it in rings, jacking each ring and building the next one below, making it much safer, much lower work at heights,” he explained.

The dome is a storage structure but it also has a role in the production process.

“The quarry where we mine our limestone, it gets crushed into a baseball-size material. From there it enters into the dome where it’s blended and then from the dome it goes through another conveyor and enters our grinding circuit where we grind it into baby powder consistency material and then from there it goes into our tower and begins the combustion process,” said Bachmann. “When we’re done with that process, we’ve got our product which is cement and we use that to continue to shape the western Canada landscape.”

Lafarge is now holding a contest to give the new dome a name.

“It’s had a lot of names. Thunderdome is one of the more popular ones, the spaceship is another one, that’s part of the reason we started this contest is to keep that curiosity that’s going on in the communities and get a good name for our dome,” said Bachmann.

So far over 80 suggestions have been sent in from individuals and families in the area and the contest goes until February 24.

Crews are still working on the inside on things like mechanical and electrical systems and say the facility should be fully functional by the spring.

To enter the contest send michelle.gurney@lafargeholcim.com your dome name and include your name and phone number in the entry.

For more information on the Lafarge dome, click HERE.

(With files from Bill Macfarlane)