Mark Vander Voort was admittedly nervous as Hurricane Harvey made Texas landfall in August. Little more than a week earlier, he had attended the soft opening of Katy Independent School District's Legacy Stadium, which for years had drawn national headlines as its price tag approached $70 million — unprecedented at the prep level. As director of the project in suburban Houston, Vander Voort, a principal at HKS in Dallas, was relieved to learn that the 12,000-seat stadium's bowl and adjacent two-level locker room and office facility avoided flooding during the deluge (more than two feet of rain), thanks to the synthetic turf's drainage capabilities and a pump system that worked even after the power went out. It's just one value-added feature that Vander Voort says justifies the stadium's expense. Others include motion-sensing parking lot security, home and away upper decks, a press box with bookend hospitality suites, twin elevators, 24 concessions points of sale, and dedicated restrooms for marching bands. AB senior editor Paul Steinbach asked Vander Voort to share his vision.
How do you make a stadium feel like home to eight different district high schools?
There are mascot graphics throughout the stadium for each school, but here's the main idea: There are large perforated metal screens that shade the home stands from the western sun, but the screens are illuminated at night with colored LED lighting, so they glow in the colors of the home team.
What other ideas went into the stadium's aesthetic?
A lot of high school stadiums have been sort of traditional, or referential to older styles of architecture. We tried to have a contemporary expression that represents the future of the city of Katy, which is growing so quickly. Instead of there being elements that are purely decorative, most of what you see at the Katy stadium is integrated — the structural forms are integral to the architecture. There's a strong roof form shading the press box and the home stands that symbolizes community pride. The other thing that drove us was to have a sense of intimacy, just in terms of heightening the experience both for the participants on the field as well as the patrons in the stands. I think participants on the field are going to feel like they're really at a special place, and hopefully the same is true for families in attendance. They're going to witness events that become lifelong memories. The stadium is really a backdrop for those events, but it can make a difference.
Do you feel such projects are becoming the new normal?
People tend to talk about high school football stadiums in Texas as if they're getting out of hand, but I do think that it's a matter of reflecting and accommodating the growth in a district like Katy. It's really amazing how they must look forward, and build and program with that in mind. I think that's all that they've done, and I personally think it's been a very responsible solution. Certainly, we tried to be that way. We kept that in mind with all systems.
How does the stadium reflect the district's forward thinking?
This is a leadership district. I don't think they wanted to build something that would be obsolete or leave payback on the table, and an example would be investing in the LED lighting system, which is more expensive than a conventional system, but it's going to pay for itself in a very short period of time. We really worked hard with the district to provide great value and to meet their programmatic needs. I don't think there's anything there that's not going to provide tremendous value to the district and the community for a long time to come.
This article originally appeared in the October 2017 issue of Athletic Business with the title "What does $70 million buy in a high school stadium?" Athletic Business is a free magazine for professionals in the athletic, fitness and recreation industry. Click here to subscribe.