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Building pride and community through high school athletics facility design

July 23, 2019

A new athletic facility can inspire students and deliver a sense of belonging

A high school athletic facility is more than a place where students fulfill their physical education requirements, it’s a place for community gathering, the public face of the school on game days, and a place where students challenge themselves for next-level achievements. When athletic facilities fall into disrepair or can’t fulfill one or more of their multiple functions, this can affect the school significantly.

Conversely, a smartly designed athletic facility can do more than boost athletic participation; it can build school pride, and a sense of place and belonging that translates to school participation and even academic performance. A robust, attractive, and flexible athletic facility can become a community focal point—where hard work and student achievement is celebrated.

The new Del Valle High School Athletics Facility in Del Valle, Texas.

In east Austin, Texas, Del Valle Independent School District’s athletic facilities needed a transformation. Growth over time led to makeshift spaces for offices and portable facilities. Spaces were cramped with limited student access, weight facilities became inadequate, and room for hosting community events wasn’t available. The school had no dedicated means to showcase athletic achievements, further limiting student engagement and school legacy. As a result, the district was losing athletes.

Many students in the district are economically disadvantaged and a significant percentage are considered at risk of dropping out of school. Without a strong connection to the community—most residents commute elsewhere for work—the school district was suffering from a lack of identity, negatively affecting school pride. The District had never hosted a district-wide event due to its facilities, and the existing stadium was overdue for an update.

Realizing it needed to find new ways to keep students engaged outside of the classroom, Del Valle envisioned a multipurpose facility that could boost engagement, attract and retain student athletes, and instill pride and a renewed sense of community. After years of planning, the new, collegiate-level facility opened in 2017, creating a bold new image for the school that epitomizes the Del Valle student athlete, reinforcing the District’s core values and strengthening students’ connection to the school.

The new Del Valle High School Athletics Facility features a cantilevered viewing deck.

Designing a game day experience

The compact new athletic facility building is nestled between the existing practice field and bleachers, creating a new entry and concession area. The location also allows for separate entries for home and visiting teams and spectators. A tailgate entry zone welcomes spectators to the stadium and provides a dedicated area for gathering for a full “Game Day” experience.

The gradated, colored metal façade of the new athletic facility symbolizes an athlete’s speed while enhancing the brand of the program. A cantilevered viewing deck hovering over the track resembles a runner jumping hurdles. The design organizes the buildings around the existing football field to create entries into the athletic complex. The public lobby celebrates Del Valle athletic program accomplishments, and behind the walls is an advanced facility that engages student-athletes, coaches, and support staff.

The new sports facility isn’t just about building bodies; it's about building character.

The new facility enhances the family and spectator experience by taking advantage of the site’s sloped north end as a community park zone and event viewing area. The end-zone park is inspired by modern ballparks, which feature grassy zones that invite picnicking, and the way siblings of athletes often play beneath a high school’s stands. In the park, children can play within proximity of their parents. The endzone park is designed as a place the whole family can enjoy.

A cantilevered viewing deck serves as a community space, brings administration closer to the field, and provides space for spectator entry while giving students a spot to relax and view an event as a reward. It’s kind of a balcony hovering over the track, where scouts and visitors to the districts can enjoy the game.

A community gathering space

The new facility provides opportunities that allow many more people to participate in school and community events. The whole community can now witness the progress and outstanding achievements of their students.

Del Valle's new facilities include an indoor practice field, designed to provide year-round workout space protected from the Texas heat.

Athletics and connections

New facilities include an indoor practice field (80 yards by 60 yards), a state-of-the-art weight room, locker rooms, a training room, new concessions and restrooms, offices for coaches and staff, and a team video room. Football is big in Texas, but this facility accommodates all the school’s outdoor sports including track and field, soccer, softball, and baseball. The indoor field is usable year-round and protects students from the Texas heat, while the field’s cushioned turf reduces impact injuries.

The new athletic facilities have enabled the school to hire new coaches and retain student-athletes. They’ve also created the opportunity for connections to college and pro athletics. Former University of Texas and NFL football players now come to the school to do free football camps. The Del Valle facilities host a high school player combine that university scouts use. This has already allowed four of their students to secure athletic scholarships at the university level. And a pro soccer club uses the facility for practices, and in turn, holds free clinics and helps coach the high school’s soccer team.

The weight room at the new Del Valle High School Athletics Facility, where student participation in athletics has increased 6% in the short time after the facility opening.

Sustainable and smart

The indoor practice field has fewer openings on the south and west side. Our design saved 12,650 square feet of exterior wall and reduced building skin requirements by wrapping the metal building structure on two sides with programmatic functions, which also acts as a heat barrier. Large fans facilitate natural ventilation inside the building, reducing HVAC costs. Our materials choices—such as sealed concrete, recycled rubber, and terrazzo flooring throughout the building—balance sustainability and durability. The facility’s full LED lighting package and daylight sensors reduce energy consumption and save the school $11,500 on energy costs annually.

On the outdoor field, the use of turf rather than grass reduces the need for water and maintenance.

The new Del Valle High School Athletics Facility has space designed to celebrate the district's athletic achievements.

Reflecting core values and mission

The district’s mission statement and beliefs guided a design that reflects the needs of this community and the students they serve.

On the stairs within the facility, the core values—“be motivated, be committed, be honest, be respectful”—are reinforced visually. Using sports as a venue, Del Valle seeks to instill values and characteristics in students that will see them through life, on and off the field. The new sports facility isn’t just about building bodies, it’s about building character.

With this new facility, Del Valle positions itself to deliver on its mission of encouraging and inspiring students to pursue excellence in all aspects of their life and education.

Boosting engagement

The results speak volumes. Within one year of opening, the new facility was serving more than 70% of the student population, and student participation had already increased by 6%. Del Valle is keeping students plugged in and already enjoying the results of a well-planned and executed strategy for building community, student pride, and participation through the new athletics complex.

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