ALLEN, Texas — Its $60 million high school football stadium, with a three-tiered press box that juts above the Texas horizon, has been a source of considerable pride in this community north of Dallas ever since the state-of-the-art facility opened its doors less than two years ago.
But if you walk inside 18,000-seat Eagle Stadium these days, it’s impossible to miss the countless cracks, some as wide as three-quarters of an inch, lining the concourse that have made the stadium unfit for public assembly. And now this one-high school community has been forced to deal with the fact that the stadium will be closed for the upcoming football season because of significant structural deficiencies.
“It is a jewel in our community … ” said Larry Kelly, a longtime supporter of Allen High’s football program who moved to the community in 1973. “To hear that it’s closed, it was pretty devastating.”
Not only is Allen grappling with the notion that its back-to-back Class 5A Division I state championship football team will have to play its home games for the upcoming season in neighboring Plano, but many locals have been rankled that the news, announced two weeks ago, provided fuel for critics nationwide.
The construction of the stadium was held up by some nationally as a sign of excess, an alarming next step in a high school facilities arms race in a state where football rivals religion in importance. The same critics cite the structural issues as a prime reason why they say it never should have been built.
Much of the community is in agreement that the stadium issues are embarrassing, just not for the city of Allen or the school district. They say the responsibility rests with Pogue Construction, which built the stadium, and PBK Architects, which designed it.
“This is not a black eye for Allen ISD or the community of Allen,” district superintendent Dr. Lance Hindt said while walking the stadium’s concourse with a USA TODAY Sports reporter. “It is a black eye for PBK and Pogue. Absolutely.”
The school district hired Nelson Forensics to investigate the cause of the cracking. A preliminary report identified design deficiencies in the elevated concourse that fail to meet building codes. Hindt said that Pogue and PBK are working with the school district to determine the scope of the problem.
Pogue Construction has retained its own consultant that has been reviewing the stadium construction. Though its final report has yet to be issued, its findings to date “support several conclusions of the Nelson report focusing on design issues,” Pogue said in a statement to USA TODAY Sports.
In a statement to USA TODAY Sports, PBK said in part: “We continue to work closely with the Allen Independent School District to reopen Eagle Stadium as soon as possible. In the coming weeks, findings will be presented and a repair solution jointly determined with the district. We will do whatever it takes to implement the repairs at absolutely no cost to the Allen ISD or taxpayers.”
Bob McSpadden of Katy, Texas, whose website TexasBob.com details the some 1,200 high school stadiums in the state, said the closing of the stadium is indeed an embarrassment for the school district even though it is not at fault. Generally speaking, he said people often underestimate “how important a football stadium is to a community. I think it could really bring it together. Or divide it.”
But already there are signs that the stadium issues have galvanized many in Allen.
After the closing was announced, Chris Tripucka, who owns Eagle Designs spirit store near the stadium, grew so frustrated reading online comments from those criticizing Allen that he took action.
He quickly designed a T-shirt that included the mantra “Road Warriors 2014” and the phrase “Home is anywhere Eagle Nation plays.”
Within an hour, more than 1,000 people had viewed the T-shirt on Facebook. After the first shipment of 182 T-shirts arrived at the store, they sold out in less than 24 hours. Fans have asked for the same designs on car decals and rally towels.
“The reason it got popular was that everyone was just frustrated with what they were reading and how people were just destroying the people of Allen, like we don’t know what we are doing,” Tripucka said. “We were just trying to rally the troops. We’ve had people call us up and thank us.”
Locals had waited decades for a stadium that befitted its growing community.
Old-timers in Allen talk about playing in the 1940s, when the players tamped down dirt to stabilize newly installed light posts that surrounded a field watered only with rain. No more than 150 fans, many cotton farmers, surrounded the field to watch the six-man team.
And the old Eagle Stadium, which opened in 1976, included 7,000 permanent seats, but the school district leased another 7,000 temporary bleachers each year for $250,000. Complaints about long lines for concession stands and restrooms were common.
“The stadium they had before, it was really bad,” McSpadden said. “I mean really bad.”
The community has also grown. Now a city of some 89,000, it ranked 16th in Money magazine’s 2012 rankings of the best small U.S. cities to live.
Eagle Stadium was part of a $119 million bond proposal approved in 2009. The proposal included a performing arts center ($23.3 million) and service center ($36.5 million), all of which was approved by 64% of voters.
The stadium also includes a practice area for men’s and women’s golf. A 5,800-square-foot wrestling practice area was added on one side, while a sprawling weight room was added on the other. The high-definition video screen has been a favorite of many fans.
Some cracking on the concourse was detected before the first game in the fall of 2012. But Hindt said the architect and contractor said at the time that the cracking was normal because concrete shrinks when it dries.
But the cracks became more pervasive and grew in width, Hindt said. Cracking near the concession area, where the students often congregate during games, is among the most noticeable issues.
In late February of this year, about a week before Hindt was named superintendent, he was told the district would need to shut down the stadium indefinitely. “You feel like you take a sock in the gut, somebody punched you there,” he said.
“I was outraged when I first heard about it. How could a $60 million facility, the premier facility as far as I am concerned in the nation, how could (the contractor and architect) make mistakes on this?”
In its latest report, Nelson Forensics said its review of engineering documents discovered areas of the stadium where the design-load demand exceeds the code-permitted capacity by 10-20% at multiple locations, and by greater than 70% at isolated locations.
A final report from Nelson Forensics is due this month. Nelson Forensics has partnered with a second firm, Datum Engineering, to begin developing plans for repairs and to coordinate with contractors to procure cost estimates for those repairs.
Hindt said the school district has already lost more than $600,000 in revenue. He said that he expects that neither taxpayers nor the school district will lose a penny.
“If you built a house and in two years you found cracking or your staircase could not hold certain weight,” Hindt said, “you are going to go back and hold the architect and the builder responsible to fix it. There is no difference here, only on a much grander scale.”
Pogue Construction said it stands by its work as the construction manager for the project and that Pogue and its subcontractors take responsibility for any repairs due to the quality of work or materials of subcontractors retained by Pogue. “Pogue continues to assert that taxpayers will not be responsible for any concerns which arise from the construction management of Pogue or the workmanship of its subcontractors,” the company said in a statement.
Tim Carroll, Allen’s director of public information, said that on a typical game night some 1,000 students perform in the stadium, including the football players, student trainers, the 800-plus member band and escadrille, the 22-member broadcast team and business marketing students who help run the stadium store.
More than 20 buses will be needed to transport the band to the home games in Plano, where Allen will play at two stadiums. Allen will not sell season tickets this year. And Allen will host eight home games in 2015.
The school district hopes to avoid delays in repairs. And Pogue and PBK had offered to each place $1 million into an escrow account that would help fund repairs and avoid delays. But school district officials said that Pogue’s and PBK’s insurance companies refused to make the payments.
Pogue said in a statement that it could not participate in the escrow proposal without risking insurance coverage but maintained that it has “more than sufficient insurance to stand behind its work on the stadium.”
Most locals are standing by their school district, but they want their stadium back. Mike Williams, who moved to Allen in 1974 and hardly misses a game, said the stadium has “put Allen on the map” and that almost everyone supports the school district in making the best decisions.
“They are definitely blaming the wrong people … ” Williams said of critics who lambaste Allen. “There’s always going to be those people who don’t read or who don’t understand and are not totally educated. They are going to be negative.”
Britt Brooks, who has lived in Allen since 1992 and whose son plays on the football team, said he has heard or read negative national reaction to the stadium issues every day since the news was announced in February.
“The one that always cracks me up is, ‘Oh, they should have bought $60 million worth of books,’ ” Brooks said. “We are not short on funding for our schools. Our schools take care of the kids really well. It bugs the crap out of me that people don’t take the time to read and understand.”
Even with the stadium issues, Brooks said the same referendum to build it would pass today with the exact same amount of support from the community. And when asked if there were any lessons learned from this, Hindt said, “I don’t know if we would have done it any other way.”
Kelly, who moved to Allen when it was a one-stop light community 41 years ago, emphasized that everyone he has talked to remains supportive of the school district and administration, as residents anticipate one day being able to again enjoy their jewel of the community.
“We do as taxpayers expect and demand that whomever is responsible makes this thing right and does not diminish the longevity of this stadium,” Kelly said. “We have already paid the $60 million. We don’t have a $60 million product. We have got to demand that we have that.”