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Published August 16, 2019
Redefining Titan Territory
Sparks Reed's arena design boasts innovations inside and out
A future McLain hot spot - the arena entryway

Sometimes innovation springs organically from the soil. Such is the case with the new arena Sparks Reed Architecture and Interiors designed for the McLain High School of Science and Technology.

Tulsa (Oklahoma) Public Schools faced significant hurdles before it could provide this 60-year-old campus a new arena and practice gym. 

  • The earth beneath its two-acre site boasted high water content, leaving the soil unable to support the desired steel and concrete-block structure without costly deep support piers. 

  • Within that soupy soil runs a high-pressure pipeline operated by Magellan Midstream Partners. While that Tulsa firm did shift its 100-year-old gas line within its easement – which runs diagonally across the school's property, dissecting the site for the new arena – the pipe itself had to remain in service. 

This forced builders to keep disruptive vibrations to a minimum – a severe restriction when raising any multi-level concrete structure, but a near-impossible task when driving the deep piers a traditional foundation would require.


Sparks Reed overcame these challenges by employing a geopier system. This method proved to be very cost-effective, meeting the seismic restrictions while significantly reducing the amount of concrete needed.


"That is a much shallower foundation system, which saved the project nearly half a million dollars," said David Reed, principal of Sparks Reed. "It also met the low-impact (seismic) requirements for the Magellan pipeline. "


This choice required Sparks Reed to keep the 50,500-square-foot building's weight as light as possible while still meeting the demands for a durable, easy-to-maintain structure. It forced designers to forego bricks or concrete blocks – favorites of many sports and educational buildings. Instead, Sparks Reed met its goals through two devices:

  • A giant steel truss system resting on 16 piers.  Reducing the number of columns touching the ground decreased the number of required piers and foundation costs.

"It's pretty incredible, that a building of that size has just 16 columns," said Reed.


  • Using a manufactured metal panel system for the exterior skin, mixed with gray stone wall tile. This tile also was used on interior walls. 

Exterior view

This mix of finishes significantly reduced the weight of the building from traditional brick veneer over concrete block. The panels and tiles also promise high resilience to impacts or wear, with easy replacement if damaged. 

With some of the panels translucent, others solid, this wall design gives the arena a unique external look, one that takes a different presence at night.  It also provides a considerable amount of diffused natural daylight inside the building, requiring little additional artificial lighting at these times.  


"That panel system provided a total building envelope system in one delivered material," said Reed. "The outside finish and the inside finish were both delivered from the factory, so there was no need to paint or add another building material or trade to the exterior and interior – which sped the project up as well, eliminating the need to add additional trades to apply metal studs, drywall, gypsum board, and paint. It cut out three trades on the envelope of the building, which saved time and money for the district."

Above: Arena view from the surrounding concourse
Above: the hospitality suite               Below: the practice gym

This creative design achieves all of its primary goals while providing McLain an enviable home court. Its nearly 1,000-seat grandstand offers both chair-back and bench seating in a horseshoe-shaped bowl, elevated to keep fans off the court level. An impressive concourse wraps around this, providing standing room for another 500+ spectators or space for a variety of vendors, kiosks, social mixers, intimate meetings, and other fan-engaging options.

"That concourse provides some very engaging views of the game," said Reed. "Some may prefer it to the seats."

Into this two-acre site Sparks Reed also squeezed a practice gym, hospitality suite, concessions space and a spirit room, a wrestling room, varsity and junior varsity locker rooms for both men and women, a sports medicine training room, an athletic conference room, a study hall for players, and offices for coaches and administration. A dynamic glass entryway serves them all, with plenty of space for mingling and browsing before events. 


"That lobby structure was designed to form a giant ‘T' for Titans, and that is repeated in the hospitality suite," Reed said with a smile. "It should be visible from the outside as you drive along Peoria (Avenue).”


Other subtle touches, like the soaring bathroom entryways, also embrace the Titan image.


This Sparks Reed design employs many high-tech infrastructure solutions to deliver efficient, cost-effective operation and maintenance, including programmable, energy-conserving environmental systems, high-value panel insulation, and LED (light-emitting diode) lighting. Considering McLain's science and technology focus, Sparks Reed placed all these systems in full view, along with the six giant trusses and other structural elements, so that students may learn first-hand how a building is put together and works.


"Hopefully this will inspire some of them to want to become architects and structural and mechanical engineers," said Reed. 


"We were able to do all of this without sacrificing the material nature of this building," he said. "All of this helps generate excitement and activity for the fan as well as the student-athlete, with a variety of other multipurpose spaces available for future needs and uses. What more could you ask for in an arena?"

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