Sparkman Center marks 25 years as trend setter
Story by Lisa Simunaci on 08/22/2019
Now 25 years later, the Sparkman Center’s place in history is the trend it ignited for Arsenal growth that continues today.
The John J. Sparkman Center for Missile Excellence, originally designed to house 2,500 people, welcomed the first members of the workforce in August 1994, less than two years after a ceremonial groundbreaking where Arsenal leadership and elected officials turned dirt at the intersection of Martin and Patton roads.
Today’s Sparkman Center consists of eight separate, but connected, buildings serving as “home” to the headquarters for MICOM’s succeeding organization, the Aviation and Missile Command.
Civil engineer Sam Fields envisioned the Sparkman Center the first office construction the Army had seen on the installation since the 1960s.
“MICOM was in desperate need of more space,” Fields said in a Redstone Rocket article published in August 1994. “People were working in old warehouses and WWII-era poison-gas manufacturing and shell-filling buildings.”
Fields died in an accident in August 1995. A monument in the center’s courtyard bears his likeness beside the inscription, “His dedication and vision are reflected in these buildings.”
Kaylene Hughes served as a MICOM historian and continues in that role with AMCOM. She collected information as the Sparkman project evolved, documenting the process, while she was living through it as an employee. She and others recall the excitement and a sense of apprehension as the opening moved closer.
The Sparkman Center consolidated employees who had been dispersed since the 1950s in office locations scattered among buildings and temporary trailers across the installation. Many employees also worked in off-post, leased buildings. Before email and video teleconferencing were the norm, employees routinely traveled by private car, taxis and shuttles to coordinate business across the command.
Along with the geographic move, many employees who worked on shared systems were also in the process of receiving their first individual computers, said Johnnie Bradt, as she recalled the shift to the center.
“There was a huge fear of change since we had been doing things a certain way for many years,” said Bradt, who still works in the building today as an initiatives analyst for the Aviation and Missile Command. “We even heard rumors that we wouldn’t be able to eat or drink at our desks.”
Once the move was complete, Bradt noted, those fears were put to rest and collaboration became easier in the days preceding reliance on email.
From groundbreaking to completion, the Sparkman Center went up in record time, 21 months, a result of behind-the-scenes planning which occurred for at least two decades.
The first proposals to solve the administrative space challenge date back to the 1970s, Hughes said. But issues with funding and the support of senior leaders and Congress, seemed insurmountable. The Army’s growing emphasis on consolidation and energy conservation resulted in a new tasking for Arsenal planners to devise an attainable strategy to construct more office space on the Arsenal.
Fields and engineer John Fulda approached the Army Materiel Command in the early 1980s to see what it would take to win support for a major expenditure that would help consolidate MICOM’s 18 organizational elements.
“The original Fields-Fulda concept envisioned structures far different from the post’s early Army ugly,’ no-frills buildings, like those constructed in the 1950s,” Hughes said. “The proposed five-building complex had up-to-date features and modern technology designed to enhance productivity, efficiency, usability and morale.”
Fields and Fulda also investigated a monorail line to connect future buildings under a prototype development with Boeing, according to Hughes. While interest in and possible funding for the idea eventually waned, a sketch of the concept hangs outside Bob Jones Auditorium in the Sparkman Center.
Planning continued, both on the concept and the search for funding. Officials were exploring new possibilities as acquisition laws were changing. One idea included third-party funding that would lease the buildings to the government.
Both the dynamic and requirements changed as Base Realignment and Closure, or BRAC, process was underway. U.S. Sen. Howell Heflin (D-Ala.) became a champion for the project when the installation’s adopted master plan was renamed for the late Sen. John J. Sparkman (D-Ala.), who had been instrumental in the Arsenal’s establishment and subsequent growth.
Heflin addressed the funding issues at the Office of Management and Budget and championed language inserted into the Defense budget that helped expand the project.
With the approvals and funding finally in place, efforts moved into high gear as a nontraditional design-build method was identified as the way forward. The design-build method reduced the delivery schedule by combining design and construction services on a single contract.
Heflin joined Army leaders for the Nov. 10, 1992, groundbreaking for the $58.4 million development.
Redstone Arsenal’s Public Works Director Joe Davis had just started his career and served as the project engineer and later as the project manager in the initial phases of the center.
The concept of the Center, Davis explained, was to be less “Army-like” and leaned more toward the buildings that reflected corporate America.
“The design, concept and flexibility of the Sparkman Center encompassed very advanced ideas for the time,” Davis said. “It ultimately set the stage for all other construction projects on post to follow.”
The style of construction used for the Sparkman Center was mimicked across the installation to save on design costs. Not only do the follow-on buildings in the center mirror each other, but the Defense Intelligence Agency’s Missile and Space Intelligence Center building, also known as the Shelby Center for Missile Intelligence, opened in 1999, reflects the Sparkman Center style.
Beyond what it meant for employees at the time, the addition of the Sparkman Center was a testament to what the Arsenal could do in the future.
Results of the BRAC actions of 1991, 1993 and 1995 expanded the square footage of the Sparkman Center before the buildings were completed.
In May 1996, a contract was awarded for two new buildings to continue the complex, along with upgrades to the cafeteria and additional parking. The expansion would accommodate the merger of the aviation elements of the Aviation and Troop Command in St. Louis with MICOM to become what is known today as the Aviation and Missile Command.
“Senator Heflin pegged it right,” Hughes said. “He felt if the Arsenal would get this building, it would be in a better position to gain during the BRAC, rather than have things taken away.”