"I can't see any downside here"
Published July 19, 2018
In 2015, Tulsa Tech wanted to inject new life into its TTC Riverside Campus cafeteria. Despite an anchoring position in a relatively young facility (opened in 1999), campus Director Brad Hanselman said the 100-seat dining area felt dated and inefficient.
“It was just a large square room with round tables,” said Hanselman, who came to Riverside in 2011. “There was nothing really special about it.”
This eight-campus school district also sought to improve efficiencies and seating capacity in the 4,200-square-foot space, said TTC Director of Architecture and Construction Lisa Grau.
“We wanted an area that was dynamic, exciting, and interesting for the students to be in,” she said.
Through competitive bidding, TTC selected Sparks Reed Architecture and Interiors to reimagine this gathering area for students, faculty, and guests.
“They were very easy to work with,” Hanselman said. “They brought the designs in and they were very receptive to any design changes we wanted.”
The project started by carving a side corridor out of the cafeteria’s existing footprint. That improved pedestrian movement and access across the dynamic campus while providing visitors a look into the café.
“Traffic flow was greatly improved,” said Hanselman. “We actually had no direct path across that area before this.”
Sparks Reed then recast the dining area with an aviation motif. The design team placed rows of large and small booths along the two side walls, one simulating an airliner interior, the other boasting atmospheric touches.
Between them Sparks Reed raised an island counter shaped like an aircraft wing, along with a small fleet of round TTC tables. Sparks Reed dressed all these with machined metal accents emulating the aircraft maintenance and repair work taught at that campus.
“The inclusion of design elements that look like aviation parts was really a high point of it,” said Glau. “And they used materials that have proven to be quite durable for us. That is an asset because of the amount of traffic that goes through there.”
Through these changes, Sparks Reed actually increased area seating to 165 while creating several different environments for intimate or group gatherings. With the booths came outlets for students to plug in and recharge their electronic devices, which Hanselman said is a vital concern today.
“And the seating was greatly improved,” he added. “These booths and benches are far more comfortable, and they make for great conversation areas.”
Completed by Voy Construction in 2016, the rechristened TTC Runway Café proved an instant hit with students and faculty.
“Sparks Reed really did a great job on it,” said Glau. “They completely changed the character and atmosphere of it. I love what they did.”
Two years into operations, Hanselman said the renovation has worked out better than their executives ever hoped.
“I’ve been nothing but pleased,” he said. “It gives the area more of a collegiate feel instead of your traditional high school cafeteria. The students, they have a more personal connection with it. They feel an ownership for it. And I think the staff that works in there is prouder of it.”
The Runway Café’s design proved so popular, Glau said TTC hopes to continue this motif when it renovates the rest of the Riverside campus.
“Sparks Reed did a real good job for us,” Hanselman said. “I can’t see any downside here.”