High School Becomes an Educational Park

The successful relationship between Allen High School and the citizens of Allen, Tex., began during the planning stages of what was to become not only a new high school for the burgeoning suburb just north of Dallas, but also a state-of-the-art learning and physical activity center that benefits the entire community.

The original Allen High School opened in 1959 and several additions were built before the area experienced a boom and outgrew the old facility in 1995. The community committed to building the Allen High School Educational Park that year when they overwhelmingly passed a bond proposal for the new high school, as well as building renovations and land purchases for future school projects.

At that point, the Allen High School Task Force was formed. Comprised of 150 members including teachers, students, citizens, city and school officials, the task force set about planning a facility that would survive well into the future, while continuously serving the needs of the growing community.

STB Architects and Planners, Inc., a Dallas architectural firm that has worked with the Allen ISD for more than 30 years, was selected to design the complex. The intention was to create a facility that would accommodate high school curriculum and college courses, as well as activities that would include the entire citizenry. Following two years of construction, the new campus opened on August 5, 1999.

Activity Center

The Allen High School Activity Center and athletic practice fields, also designed by STB, were completed in spring of 2000. Housing half of an indoor football field, the activity center enables players to practice in a climate-controlled environment. Weight training and workout areas are of college caliber. The 71,600-square-foot center places all outdoor-sports-related activities under one roof, allowing coaches and trainers to enjoy the benefits of having their offices and equipment storage in one place. According to the coaching staff, part of the center’s success is that communication is much easier in a facility where sports aren’t scattered.

Recognizing that coeducational facilities where girls’ sports are on equal footing with boys’ are the evolving standard, the building was designed to move into the future without mandatory revisions. The center has girls’ scheduling, locker areas and coaching staff on par with the boys’.

Shared Use

The $6.5-million center has captured national attention. Coaches and trainers met with architects and planners, and detailed their vision of the finest practice facility that they could imagine. The center serves as both a high school athletic facility and in many ways a community center.

The 2000 National High School All-Star Football game was held in Dallas at the Highland Park High School stadium. But it was the Allen High School Activity Center that was chosen as the workout location for the players. Playing on the indoor practice field on the AstroPlay surface in a climate-controlled environment was a new experience for most of the young athletes who came from high schools nationwide.

In the summer, the center provides fitness training for kids, and a soon-to-be-completed natatorium at the high school will be available to the community for swimming classes, workouts and meets. The center is also open to the school district employees and their families.

Allen Sports Association, a non-profit organization that manages local leagues and team programs for pre-K to high school-aged kids, uses the AISD school gymnasiums for basketball and volleyball and the athletic fields for football and soccer. The high school practice fields, softball fields and artificially surfaced track are all available to the community as well.

Savings

The savings to the community is multi-faceted. Not only was space designated for the Community College District, but all Allen residents were taken into consideration when the master plan for the 170-acre education park was developed. Instead of having to build municipal tennis courts, Allen residents enjoy the 12 new, lighted courts at the park for both recreational and league play.

Don Horton, Allen’s Director of Parks and Recreation, explains that this arrangement saves the city lots of money: “In Allen, the cost of land is about $40,000 per acre. The site for the new natatorium at the high school, for instance, is 10 acres of land that the school district already owns. In this case, the city will operate the facility (both students and residents will use it) at a cost of approximately $800,000 per year, but will recover about 85 percent of those costs through user fees. The annual cost to the Allen residents will be only about $120,000 per year. This is a prime example of school district and city working together for the good of both.” Allen municipal sports leagues and teams also have access to school facilities for nominal fees.

Benefits

“The other day I was looking out into the weight training area and saw a small boy trying to struggle with some weights. One of the high school athletes went right over and helped him. That’s what the activity center does -- it unites groups of young people,” recounts Todd Graham, former head coach at AHS. “The younger or less athletic kids receive encouragement. Plus, the center was designed with young folks in mind. It’s light and open, has a great sound system and every imaginable amenity to offer them quality time, rather than just hanging out. More facilities like this one could go far in eliminating some of the problems we’ve seen across our country,” he adds.

Shared athletic facilities enable a cross section of a community to interact in positive, healthful activities. Everyone is welcome at the Allen High School Activity Center and there are pastimes geared to all age groups.

The state-of-the-art facility draws national events like the 2000 High School Football Championship Game, which benefits local restaurants and hotels and gives the school district and the area exposure.

The Future

Until the last decade, Allen was a small town. Now, it is a growing suburb of north Dallas. “Allen Schools have always been the center and the heart of the community,” says Athletic Director Steve Williams. “We know that the kids are our future.” And Allen has planned for its future with a high school educational park that will withstand the development and growth now taking place.

“We are aware of the demands that this growth will put on our school system,” says Bob Curtis, district facilities director, “but I like to use the term ‘challenging opportunities.’ Fortunately, the high school task force, along with STB Architects, gave us a high school that can easily serve the growing community for years to come.”

Lou Ann York is a freelance publicist in Dallas, Tex.

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