Written by Matt Wixon
Wixon: 'I can't blame [Allen] for building a stadium that's akin to a Rolls-Royce'
ALLEN — The new $59.6 million Eagle Stadium has 18,000 seats, two scoreboards, a 38-foot wide high-definition video screen, 42 lines for concessions and the refined look of a college stadium. But the thing that Allen fans might appreciate most is the stadium’s least glamorous amenity:
Real bathrooms. Lots of them.
The old stadium relied on portable toilets lined up near the home stands. It was a vivid confirmation that Allen, despite adding a lot of heft to its athletic reputation over the last two decades, still had a bare-bones stadium.
“It’s beautiful,” said Allen coach Tom Westerberg.
And deserved. For two decades, Allen played in a stadium that was outdated as it grew into one of the largest high schools in the state. The Allen ISD waited and waited, building its infrastructure, completing its schools and letting the community grow before breaking ground on a stadium.
Like a savvy car buyer with an eye on an upscale replacement, Allen drove its old jalopy until it was stalled and steaming on the side of the road. When the time finally came for an upgrade, I can’t blame the district for building a stadium that’s akin to a Rolls-Royce.
For the last two years, Westerberg has had a bird’s-eye view of the construction — and a noisy work environment — in his office that overlooks the south end zone. He watched the progress on a stadium that, although it doesn’t have the capacity of a big-time college facility, has the look of one. The sunken horseshoe design, the large plaza beyond one end zone, the three-level press box, the wide concourses and upscale brick facade give it an unprecedented wow factor for a high school stadium.
“When I saw the designs, I thought, ‘It looks unbelievable. Now let’s see them make that happen,’” Westerberg said. “Sure enough, they did.”
In the process, they got the attention of The New York Times, which did a lengthy story on it. Construction photos were shown on CNN. Media outlets across the country couldn’t resist the story of the $60 million high school stadium that confirmed Texas is completely bonkers for football.
Well, yes, Texas is pretty much bonkers for football. But the stadium isn’t crazy.
It’s a showpiece for Allen, and it has already lined up the NFL Network’s Texas vs. the Nation college all-star football game for January and the Tom Landry Classic high school games a year from now. It will attract high school playoff games, and there’s a good chance it will eventually be the home for the NCAA’s Football Championship Series final that has been held at FC Dallas Stadium in Frisco since 2011. FC Dallas Stadium has natural grass while Eagle Stadium has a synthetic turf like most of the college teams’ fields.
“I think it fits in with the vision they have over there, and I don’t see any down side of it for them,” Frisco ISD athletic director David Kuykendall said of the stadium. “I don’t think anyone over there built that on a whim.”
No, they didn’t. Allen had outgrown its old stadium, which was built in 1976 and designed to hold 4,000 fans, by the time it became a 5A school in 1992. As the school and community grew, Allen rented more and more temporary bleachers to push the capacity to 14,000.
The $59.6 million price tag on the new stadium is what floors people. But Allen ISD has always aimed for top of the line on facilities for its high school, and not just in sports. The $119 million bond that funded the stadium also gave rise to a $23.2 million Performing Arts Center that has its own television studio, a student-run restaurant and a $100,000 Steinway grand piano.
Some might consider that a little over the top. But the Allen voters approved the money, and the vote wasn’t that close: nearly two-to-one in favor of it.
“I wouldn’t trade my stadium for anything, but good for Allen,” said Southlake Carroll coach Hal Wasson, whose team will be Allen’s first opponent at the new stadium. “It’s a showcase for the community. It shows a commitment and the support.”
More than 20,000 fans are expected, including standing-room only areas, for Friday’s opener against the defending 5A Division I champion. Allen fans have bought every one of the 8,252 season tickets made available, basically selling out the home side of the stadium for the whole season.
“For the whole season?” Wasson asked.
“Wow,” he said. “I guess they knew what they were doing.”
Follow Matt Wixon on Twitter @mattwixon.