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Published July 19, 2018

Building character

Memorial Veterans Arena surprises school execs with unexpected versatility, benefits, demand

From Day 1, Memorial Veterans Arena was designed to fit many needs. But once the 57,000-square-foot facility opened in May 2014, the hopes and expectations of school officials proved blissfully short of reality. 

"It has really improved our image as a school and district," Memorial High School Principal Darin Schmidt said of the steel and concrete structure designed by Sparks Reed Architecture and Interiors and raised by Flintco. "It has helped the community gravitate towards our school. It's kind of developed into the centerpiece of our campus."

MVA succeeded brilliantly in its central role as home the school's basketball teams. With its 1,200-seat main arena, 3/4-inch wood playing floor, hospitality suite, dramatic paint package, and other collegiate-level amenities, MHS Athletic Director Mark Dover said the facility helped the invigorated Chargers' squads win two 5A state men's championships. The complex also achieved stellar results in another targeted area.

"We've hosted every level of basketball postseason tournament that is sponsored by the state athletics association," Dover said. "In addition to that, we've hosted band competitions and nonathletic events in our district. We've hosted state championships in our new arena. And we have had college basketball teams come and practice here during their conference championships."

But well before those turns materialized, school officials realized the versatile MVA could help them solve several longstanding problems and some unforeseen needs. One annual headache came quickly to mind, as the arena's auxiliary gym turned out an excellent location for student body testing. Not only was the large open space a welcome blessing, but the standalone structure protected participants from interrupting school bells and pedestrian traffic. 

"That gym has space to test 200 kids at a time," said Robert Sprague, the Tulsa, OK, school's legendary basketball coach and athletic director who oversaw the building's design and construction before his 2014 retirement. "That was the one area on the campus that could do that."

Student and faculty groups soon found that room, its connected hospitality suite, and other building options made good, adaptable meeting spaces. That reflects how Sparks Reed originally designed Memorial Veterans Arena to accommodate every MHS sports program. That promised flexibility and accessibility not just in the primary rooms, but the soaring entryway atrium honoring all five American armed forces branches, its gallery displaying Memorial student achievements, the sports medicine training room used by all student-athletes, and its locker rooms for more than 10 programs.

Word quickly spread within the surrounding neighborhood. Soon families, clubs, nonprofits, and other organizations were reserving MVA space for luncheons, reunions, banquets, and other gatherings.

"I've been pleasantly surprised at how many community groups have rented different parts of the facility," said Sprague. "That is something I didn't anticipate. The requests to use that hospitality suite or the auxiliary gym or arena from outside groups has been extraordinary."

Such flexibility also provides needed revenue streams for the school, its Tulsa Public Schools district, and organizations like the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association.

"For an urban district like Tulsa to have a facility like our MVA is really a game changer," said Schmidt. "The fact that we're able to use it for such a variety of events, including testing and student functions, luncheons, banquets, community gatherings, for such a diverse set of reasons, that's pretty special," 

All three executives praised Sparks Reed for helping achieve these outcomes.

"They really involved us, the patron, the owner," said Sprague, who worked with Sparks Reed's staff throughout the project. "They let us use our own ideas. They found out basically what we wanted and then helped us to develop that into the finished product, and that was fabulous."

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