Folks in Abington Township, Pa., flocked to the area's new hotspot this fall. In September, Abington High School's Galloping Ghosts took the field for the first time in the new Schwarzman Stadium, and the suburban community north of Philadelphia embraced the high school football experience as if it were a small town in Texas. Crowds have been filling the 3,500 seats regularly.

“It has become the place to be,” says Superintendent Amy Sichel. “Friday night football has become a focal point of the township.”

Whether it's a modest facility in a suburban school district or a massive structure on a state university campus, a sports stadium can have a profound effect on an educational institution. A prominent sports facility can help give an identity to and raise the stature of a school. A stadium can be a source of pride — a place that unifies students and school supporters. A well-designed facility can help recruit students, and generate revenue to support athletics and other programs.

“For many people, a sports facility is often the first impression — and the largest impression — a school makes,” says Randy Bredar, director of sports architecture for HNTB Architecture.

Fitting in

A school stadium or arena is, in most cases, just one element of a larger campus.

“A college stadium might be used for football games six days a year, but it is a part of the campus 365 days a year,” says Bredar. “It affects those adjacent to it, and those who operate through and around it. The stadium should knit itself into the campus community.”

When Michigan State University in East Lansing decided to upgrade Spartan Stadium, it included design elements that made the massive structure blend in better with its neighbors on campus.

The university built an eight-story addition on the west side of the stadium that opened in the fall. It boosted the capacity by 3,000 to about 75,000; it added 24 luxury suites, more than 800 “Club Seats,” a new press box, and office space for the school's development office, its foundation and alumni association.

“We used a material palette that fit in with the surrounding campus,” says Bredar. “The stadium exterior had been mostly gray concrete. The new building exterior is stone and red brick.”

The expansion cost more than $60 million, but the luxury accommodations are expected to bring in a regular stream of revenue. Luxury suites cost between $35,000 and $80,000 a year, and club seats are priced from $4,500 to $6,500 a year.

Adding flexibility to a stadium complex is a key to integrating it with the daily flow of campus life. Many schools are able to use their facilities for wedding receptions, large conferences, concerts, lectures and job fairs. Having offices for the athletic department staff and student athletic services as part of a stadium facility also helps the facility become an integral part of the campus.

Creating buzz

In Abington Township, the old football field was an aging, uninviting facility on the site of a former junior high. “It had old bleachers, no bathrooms, no concession stands,” says Sichel.

Other than diehard fans, few people turned up for games, she says.

With lights, bathrooms, concession stands and locker rooms, Schwarzman Stadium has boosted morale and has made the high school's football games more than a sports event — they're community happenings.

“The place is fabulous,” Sichel gushes. “It's beautiful. It looks like it belongs on a college campus.”

Sichel says that a private fundraising effort that netted $1 million — including $400,000 from alumnus Stephen Schwarzman, for whom the stadium was named — helped galvanize community support of the facility.

The stadium will house not only football, but also track and field, lacrosse, field hockey, soccer, band competitions and community use.

Welcoming guests

To have a successful sports facility on campus, schools and universities should strive to make a visitor's experience satisfying and memorable — whether it is an alumnus returning as a spectator, or a potential recruit evaluating a scholarship offer.

The campus infrastructure has to be prepared for the thousands that arrive on a campus for a football game.

“You need to think about the experience from the moment they arrive on campus until they leave — not just the three hours they are watching the game,” say Bredar.

That means addressing issues such as traffic circulation, adequate parking space (including room for tailgating), and bathroom availability.

For a university, the quality of the athletic facilities can be the deciding factor for high school students picking a school. Bredar says a good design can be an effective recruiting tool.

“One coach had scripted what a day would be like walking recruits and their families through the facilities, so they could envision themselves playing there, see how the arena would function,” says Bredar. “That can make an impression on the 17-year-olds.”

Searching for identity

Schools looking to enhance their athletic facilities should begin, not by looking at their existing facilities, but by looking at the school's philosophy. Some schools have an athletic tradition and instantly recognizable facilities that can be enhanced, and others are looking to build or renovate their facilities so they can establish an appealing identity that will raise the school's profile.

“We start with a master plan so a school can determine what they are and what they want,” says Bredar. “We say, ‘Let's talk about the institution and where it's headed.’”

Kennedy, staff writer, can be reached at mkennedy@primediabusiness.com

Back to campus

For more than 90 years, the football team at Elon College in Elon, N.C., had to leave campus to play a game. With no facility on campus, the squad, which competes in Division I-AA, had to travel four miles down the road to a high school stadium in Burlington, N.C., for its home games.

So when the school began looking at its athletic facilities needs, a critical component was the desire to create a true home-field advantage.

The vision became reality in September 2001 when the $13 million, 8,250-seat Rhodes Stadium, designed by Ellerbe Becket, opened on Elon's campus. The stadium's design allows for future expansion to a capacity of 20,000.

“The stadium was part of a larger vision of getting athletics back on campus,” says Randy Bredar, director of sports architecture for HNTB Architecture, who worked on the Elon project before joining HNTB.

The new facility has plenty of restrooms and concession stands, wide concourses, and a two-story press box with skybox suites.

The location enables students, alumni and other fans to bring the energy and excitement of game day to campus. The stadium opening coincided with the debut of an 80-member marching band to enhance the festive atmosphere on campus. Fans now can tailgate on campus before making a short walk into the stadium.

NOTABLE

862

Number of Club Seats included in the expansion of Michigan State University's Spartan Stadium.

$4,500 to $6,500

Yearly cost of new Club Seats at Michigan State University's Spartan Stadium.

24

Number of luxury suites included in the expansion of Michigan State University's Spartan Stadium.

$35,000 to $80,000

Yearly cost of new luxury suites at Michigan State University's Spartan Stadium.

Source: Michigan State University