Election results: Even Texans think building $60m stadiums for high school football is dumb

One of the most consistent trends in sports stadiums and arenas is soaring price tags: When the state of Maryland built Camden Yards for the Baltimore Orioles in 1992, in many ways kicking off the new-stadium boom, it cost about $110 million; in 2020, the Texas Rangers‘ just-completed Globe Life Field came in at $1.1 billion, which even after accounting for inflation is a more than 400% increase. There are several reasons for this, but mostly it’s about sports facilities becoming far more lavish — when New York Yankees COO Lonn Trost in 2008 called his team’s then-under-construction stadium (cost: $2.3 billion) “a five-star hotel with a ballfield in the middle,” he was describing an overall trend in sports design: pack in as many high-end restaurants and lavish corporate suites as possible, to give you the maximum opportunity to sell fans as many expensive things as possible, plus allow you to brag about your new home’s bling.

This trend can be seen at its craziest in the world of Texas high school football stadiums, where we’ve seen headlines (okay, I’ve written headlines) like “Texas building $63m high school football stadium four miles from $60m high school football stadium.” Even when the resulting stadiums don’t develop giant cracks and have to be shut down for repairs, that’s still an awful lot of taxpayer money to spend on a place to watch high-school sports, even in a state where kid football is a religion.

If one thing is clear from this week’s election, though — and so far pretty much nothing else is, no matter how much one refreshes FiveThirtyEight — it’s that Texans’ appetite for crazy-expensive high school stadiums appears to be on the wane. From the Houston Chronicle:

Most residents in several Texas school districts signaled no appetite Tuesday for upgraded stadiums, swimming facilities and performing arts centers at the ballot box, where, for the first time, they were given the chance to vote on separate parts of a school bond package. In prior years, Texans cast a single vote on an entire bond proposal, with no opportunity to reject specific spending requests…

Several districts, including Dallas ISD and Lamar CISD, saw bond proposals totaling nearly $5 billion for campus construction and technology pass, while about $300 million for extracurricular activities failed. Other districts earned majority support for all of their bonds, but each reported lower support for sports and performing arts facilities.

“I think people were looking for belts and suspenders, not necessarily bells and whistles,” said Drexell Owusu, who co-chaired Dallas’ citizens bond steering committee. “I think that’s really an issue the electorate writ large is wrestling with. We recognize schools are important, but we don’t know that we need everything else around that.”

This was the first election since the enactment of SB 30, a 2019 law passed by the Texas legislature that requires bonds for sports venues, performing arts facilities, and teacher housing to be voted on separately from other school bonds. And while not every district voted “laptops yes, stadiums no” — in some places both kinds of bonds passed, in some they were both defeated — in general stadiums fared more poorly at the ballot box than actual education-related spending.

This shouldn’t be a huge shock, even in Texas. But it should be yet another nail in the coffin of the idea that lavish sports stadiums are just meeting fan demand: When given the choice, many voters would forgo paying for bells and whistles. (It’s a bit of an open question whether fans are willing to pay high enough ticket surcharges to pay for them that way, though many sports economists are skeptical.) It would be nice if voters were guaranteed the right to vote on pro sports stadium funding as well — neither Camden Yards nor the new Yankee Stadium were subject to a public referendum — but step by step the longest march and all that.

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Friday roundup: The news media are collectively losing their goddamn minds edition

It’s a full slate this week, so let’s do this!

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Texas building $63m high school football stadium four miles from $60m high school football stadium

Looks like the world’s most expensive high school football stadium won’t be the world’s most expensive anymore, or even the most expensive in the Dallas area, after voters in McKinney approved a $220 million bond measure that includes $63 million for a 12,000-seat high school football stadium.

Superintendent Rick McDaniel let out a sigh of relief as the vote “for” results rolled in.

“We’re visionaries,” he said of district leaders. “And we believe we have a vision for McKinney ISD that will propel us forward for a long time.”

Me, I’m not so sure I’d be willing to bet that high school football will still be a thing for “a long time,” but this is Texas, so maybe football will still be a popular regional sport there long after it’s banned everywhere else. (I mean, it’s Texas, so of course it will.) At least hopefully this one won’t have to be shut down for a year and a half after it develops giant cracks, because that’s so 2014.

Renderings! From a freaky angle, with actual cars in the parking lot!

AN ARTIST'S RENDERING depicts what McKinney ISDís new stadium could look like at the southeast corner of Hardin Boulevard and McKinney Ranch Parkway. Saturday night, McKinney voters decided in favor of a $220 million bond, which includes a new football stadium and events center. Construction of the 12,000-seat venue makes up $50.3 million of the bond with another $12.5 million for stadium infrastructure being used from the 2000 bond. Depending if you want to go by the $50.3 million base cost or combined cost of $62.8 million, the stadium would rank among the area's priciest.

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World’s priciest high school football stadium to remain closed for a year thanks to botched design, construction

The most expensive high school football stadium ever that developed giant cracks after two years isn’t necessarily being partly torn down yet, but it is being shuttered for all of next season while officials decide what to do with it. Eagle Stadium in Allen, Texas, which cost $60 million to build, developed cracks in its concrete thanks to both design flaws and construction errors, according to a Dallas Morning News article that can only be appropriately summarized via horrified ellipses:

Partial findings by Nelson Forensics indicate that some support structures were not designed in a way that would hold the weight anticipated on that level of the stadium. … “The stadium is not safe for public assembly,” Superintendent Lance Hindt said. … Hindt said he is confident taxpayers won’t shoulder the costs of repairs at the stadium. Both PBK and Pogue Construction, which built the stadium, are working with Allen ISD to find a solution, he said. … Pogue’s analysis also found failures to completely fill the concourse pan deck during concrete pours, which created a “honeycomb effect” … The firm identified areas in the stadium where the load demand on the structure exceeded accepted building standards by 10 to 20 percent. In isolated locations, that number was greater than 70 percent.

Once the forensics report is complete, Allen officials will decide how to go about fixing the problems, and how to pay for this. The construction companies have insurance that Pogue has claimed will cover the cost of repairs, though I didn’t know you could buy stupidity insurance.

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Cracking high-school football stadium has insurance, at least

Good news! The two-year-old Allen, Texas high school football stadium that was shut down because of giant cracks in it has insurance that will cover the cost of repairs:

“Once this is fixed and completed, Allen ISD and the taxpayers will still have a magnificent stadium they can be proud of,” [stadium construction company CEO Ben] Pogue said. “There will be no financial burden for Allen ISD or taxpayers.”

That’s a relief. So now all Allen residents have to deal with is a $60 million stadium that its kids can’t play in for a year or so. Yaaaay?

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Most expensive high school stadium ever may be partly torn down after two years thanks to cracks

You want stadium schadenfreude, you got your stadium schadenfreude: Eagle Stadium in Allen, Texas, the two-year-old $60 million high school football facility that was shut down last month after giant cracks were found in it, may now need to be partially demolished and rebuilt in order to keep the damage from worsening:

Fixing structural problems at Allen Eagle stadium may require demolishing major components — possibly in areas that include the athletic field, a preliminary forensics report says.

The report found that cracks at the stadium may be caused by poor concrete work and improper structural design of reinforcing steel.
“The cracking has decreased the service life of the structure and potentially decreased its structural capacity,” the report from Nelson Forensics said.

The Dallas Morning News report is maddeningly unspecific about just what would have to be torn down, but “areas that include the athletic field” doesn’t sound good. An alternative would be filling the cracks with epoxy, which the News says “would be faster and less expensive but would diminish the stadium’s aesthetics and require periodic repairs and reapplications.”

Nobody’s talking yet about what this would all cost or who would pay for it, though I’d anticipate major finger-pointing and massive lawsuits if it turns out significant repairs are necessary. Until then, enjoy your “most expensive high school stadium ever may need to be partly torn down after two years” headline.

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World’s most expensive high school football stadium shut down after two years because of giant cracks

There are no words:

A $60 million Texas high school stadium that got national attention for its grandeur and price tag will be shut down indefinitely 18 months after its opening, school district officials said Thursday.

Eagle Stadium in the Dallas suburb of Allen will be closed until at least June for an examination of “extensive cracking” in the concrete of the stadium’s concourse, the district said in a statement Thursday. The closure will likely affect home games at the stadium this fall, the district said.

Ben Pogue of Pogue Construction, which built the stadium, told reporters that the cracks range from a quarter-inch to three-quarters of an inch wide.

The ESPN report goes on to add that the school district defended the $60 million cost “by calling the stadium an investment for generations of future Eagles fans and a much-needed upgrade from the district’s previous 35-year-old field.” It also cost so much because the district decided to go with pricier items like concrete instead of aluminum benches, because they wanted a stadium that would last decades.

Irony is a harsh mistress.

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