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Bowled over

New addition encapsulates and preserves historic Oklahoma State University basketball arena

November 01, 2001 |

Considered one of college basketball's most intimidating places to play, Oklahoma State University's Gallagher-Iba Arena lays claim to more Division I college athletic championship teams than any other collegiate facility in the nation. Constructed in 1938, the 6,381-seat arena was named after the school's legendary wrestling and basketball coaches, Ed Gallagher and Henry Iba, who collectively earned 19 national titles during their storied careers.

The original structure, called the 4-H Club and Student Activity Building when it was built, was dubbed the "Madison Square Garden of the Plains." Many OSU basketball rivals referred to it as "Hank's house of horrors," especially amid the team's seven unbeaten seasons there.

Much of the intimidation factor stems from the arena's original design, which was geared toward wrestling and agricultural activities, with a steep, 34-degree seating bowl.

"When you're standing on the floor during a basketball game it feels like there's a wall of people in orange all around you," says Gary Sparks, OSU alumnus and president of Tulsa, Okla.-based Gary Sparks Companies, lead designer of the newly renovated arena. "When the university decided it was time to expand and renovate the facility, the top priority was to preserve this 'fear factor,'"

Also important to OSU was doubling the seating capacity and providing modern amenities such as skyboxes, expanded concession areas and ample restrooms — while keeping the arena operational during construction.

OSU commissioned Gary Sparks Companies and Atlanta-based Rosser International Inc. to collaborate on the design. Dallas-based Manhattan Construction Co. managed the construction, which cost $44 million.

Encased to preserve

The plan that the Sparks/Rosser team devised was to encapsulate the old arena with a new roof structure and concourse. According to Fred Krenson, principal in charge with Rosser, the design approach expanded the seating capacity to 13,611 and allowed several buildings to be consolidated under one roof.

"The vision was to create a new facility that services both the basketball and football operations," says Krenson. "We basically built a doughnut around the arena and two adjacent smaller buildings — a two-story football office building on the west side and a two-story locker and weight-lifting facility to the north — and encased all three structures under one roof."

This was accomplished by erecting two box trusses that span east-west over the existing facilities, creating the roof frame for the expansion. Nearly 270 feet long, 14 feet wide and 40 feet tall, each truss weighs 1 million pounds.

Each truss was separated into three pieces and lifted into place in sections using a 500-ton, track-mounted crane with a 250-ft.-long lattice boom. The end sections were lifted into place first and temporarily supported by cables and braces. The center section was then added to complete the truss. Spanning 160 feet between the two giant trusses are 25 truss joists spaced 10 feet apart, completing the roof structure.

"We shaped the box trusses to form a gable roof so that the building would remain copacetic with the architecture of the rest of the campus," adds Krenson.

Supporting the trusses are four concrete towers clad in red brick that also house exit stairways and function as wind bracing for the entire structure. "Although there is still some 'X' bracing, the concrete towers replaced most of the bracing needed to support a steel structure like this," says Krenson. "At the top of the towers are the mechanical systems for the arena, which are tied into the campus chilled and hot-water loop system. The ductwork runs out the top of each tower through the framing of the box trusses."

After the box trusses were erected, an addition to the arena's seating bowl was constructed outside and above the existing walls and seating bowl. New walls were constructed around the entire facility. The new seating structure and exterior walls were framed with steel "I" beams and tied back to the existing structure and to the new concrete towers.

"At one point in time, the building had two roofs," says Sparks. "We essentially built a cocoon around and over the existing structure and then carefully dismantled the old roof, opening up to the new upper bowl and suites."

The original exterior walls remain and are showcased as the inner walls of the concourse.

Construction more than doubled the height of the arena to more than 120 feet, making it the largest sports arena in the state. "The height of the arena is equal to a typical NBA arena that holds 18,000 to 20,000 people," says Krenson. "That extra roof height is a direct result of extending the already steep seating bowl to retain the intimacy of the old facility."

The renovated arena features six stairways, three elevators, two escalators and the nation's only skybox suites that allow fans to view basketball or wrestling in the arena from the east side and football games from the west side.

Funding the project was supported by OSU students, private donations, season-ticket holders and a use tax voted on by the citizens of Stillwater. The budget was made up of a $2 per credit hour athletic renovation fee, approved by the Student Government Association and both the local and state regents, which committed $15 million to the project. Nine million dollars came from a 3 percent use tax applied to items bought from out-of-state companies through catalogs, the Internet or by telephone. A total of $21 million came from private donations.

Proof positive

As for the success of the project team in preserving the arena's fear factor, proof came in very first basketball game played there, on Jan. 8, 2001. Speculation that the raised roof would kill the decibel level quickly ended when the noise from the raucous crowd nearly cost OSU the game against Iowa State. An OSU player couldn't hear coach Eddie Sutton's scream to foul ISU's Jamaal Tinsley as OSU nursed a three-point lead in the final seconds of regulation. Tinsley hit a three-pointer to force overtime, but the Cowboys won 88-80 in overtime.

"There was a lot of questions about how loud this place would be," said Sutton after the game. "I think it was loud enough."


General conditions $650,000
Sitework 2,134,500
Concrete 6,013,000
Masonry 3,500,000
Metals 8,100,000
Wood/plastics 620,000
Thermal and moisture control 946,000
Doors and windows 1,846,500
Finishes 4,333,100
Specialties 383,200
Equipment 1,200,000
Furnishings 740,500
Special construction 624,000
Mechanical 6,600,000
Electrical 6,350,000
TOTAL $44,040,800

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