$59.6M High School Stadium Price Not Too Big in Texas
By Jim Halley, USA TODAY
Jo Hudson's son Chris is a varsity linebacker for Allen (Texas) High School. To see her son play, she waits in line every Monday for tickets.
"Last year and this year, I could hardly get a seat in the stands," Hudson said. "After you get done with the band (670 members), the cheerleaders, the extra groups, the student body (5,049 enrollment in grades 9-12, according to the state association), there's not a lot of seats left."
A price of $59.6 million might sound like a lot of money for Allen's new stadium, set to open in 2012. But this is Texas, and Allen won the state 5A-I title in 2008. Construction costs were approved Monday by the Allen school board. The stadium will seat 18,000, including 5,000 reserved seats. That ties it for the fifth-largest high school stadium in the state. Allen's current stadium, built in 1976, has 7,000 seats. In recent years, temporary bleachers for 7,000 additional seats have been rented at a cost of $225,000 a year.
"That's Texas for you," said Chester E. Finn Jr., president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a Washington, D.C., education think tank. "This is, of course, ridiculous in a period of tight money, and the explanation will be that this is dedicated money and can't be spent on other things. … But I'm not a bit surprised. If it were Indiana, it would be a basketball arena.
"I don't think it's the arms race exactly. I think it's more of satisfying the community, almost an amenity like a community center. It's not a bad thing to do, but it's a very, very weird time to do it."
While the cost may seem high outside the state, Allen football coach Tom Westerberg said it was in line with other stadiums of its size.
"It's 18,000 seats and we looked at a couple of others that were being built, with the price per seat and it's pretty close to that," Westerberg said, adding that the current stadium's parking, consessions and other amenties weren't built for its current traffic.
"We have 25 to 30 port-a-potties outside to accomodate all the restroom facilities," Westerberg said. "It's not a very good stadium to watch a game in. It's fun to play in, but not to watch a game in."
"It's out of necessity more than anything else," added Hudson. "They had to build a stadium and if they're going to do it, they wanted to do it right."
Mike Colbrese, the executive director of the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association says a structure that costly wouldn't fly in this economy in his state.
"That sounds like Texas football from everything we hear about it," Colbrese said. "It must be a state-of-the-art facility, but we certainly wouldn't be building anything like that in the state of Washington. You worry that this comes at a time when secondary education is facing so many challenges."
Allen's success on the field made it easier to push for a new stadium. The Eagles have lost only six games the past four years
Though the $119 million bond that included the stadium — passed just five months after Allen won its first state title — will raise property taxes in Allen by an average of $40 a year for a $200,000 home, the stadium will eventually pay for itself, said school district spokeman Tim Carroll, adding, "We'll be able to use it for playoffs and other events besides football."
"My only sad thing about the stadium is my son won't get to play on it because he'll graduate next year," Hudson said. "I think he was joking, when he said, 'Maybe I'll flunk one grade.' "
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