Feature Article - January 2020
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Expanding Possibilities

Designing Spaces for High School Athletes & Fans

By Joe Bush

"A high school stadium is really a lot more about the fan and the customer experience," he said. "The field design is important but in a typical high school stadium you may have 250 people on the field and 10 times that around it. It's just one piece of a big puzzle."

Schneckloth adds other sports' usage of facilities to the spectator needs. The number of spectators and the time spent at athletic facilities can range from a few hours -one game--to an entire weekend in the event of a tournament.

"Providing amenities for people to relax, play and enjoy themselves is a nice feature, and it enhances the spectator experience," Schneckloth said.

Amenities such as Wi-Fi and phone charging stations are options by incorporating phone charging and Wi-Fi into the press box or light pole locations, he said. Playground equipment and shaded areas add value and functionality as well.

"The equipment provides a family refuge from confining bleachers to allow the kids to run, jump and move around," said Schneckloth. "In addition, shade trees and canvas canopies can be placed throughout the venue to create smaller spaces for groups to gather. Social gathering spaces allow for people to mingle and relax while maintaining close proximity to gameday viewing."

This fans-first philosophy becomes a safety topic when the facility turns to baseball and softball. Fans at football games are rarely in danger from flying footballs, but the need to pay attention pitch by pitch at baseball and softball games because of the frequency of foul balls is not only common sense but is national news several times a season when people are hurt by line drives.

The debate about fan safety versus fan experience when considering the extension of netting down the baselines led all 30 Major League Baseball teams to increase their netting from behind home plate to the end of each dugout. Some teams have gone further, with the Chicago White Sox featuring netting from foul pole to foul pole.

Schneckloth said his firm has seen a rise in requests for netting systems from high school clients.

"The last three and four years a lot of the bigger schools have made the change," he said. "Some of the smaller schools are now heading that way."

Netting can easily be retrofitted, said Schneckloth. Support posts for the netting are either placed in line with the net or back behind the bleachers. Netting systems are available that work with either type of bleachers, those elevated above the ground or those at grade, he said.

Another way to add to the spectator experience is to build themes with colors and logos, said Schneckloth. Customization starts with using vinyl-coated or decorative picket fencing instead of standard galvanized fence. Also, restrooms and concession stands can be improved with the use of tile and soft lighting in place of concrete blocks and fluorescent lights.

"Even something as simple as decorative concrete or pedestrian pathway lighting can make a difference," Schneckloth said.

Illumination plays a crucial part in today's high school facilities design above and beyond safety and visibility for fans. The days of large, metal halide lights soaring above stadiums are fading as LED technology becomes more affordable, said Schneckloth. As with netting, with professional franchises making the switch, high schools are following.

"LEDs are still more expensive initially, but the cost of long-term maintenance is lower, and they offer greater longevity and increased functionality," said Schneckloth.

Metal halides need at least five minutes to warm up and reach maximum brightness, said Schneckloth, wasting energy. LED lights not only save energy, they turn on instantly and offer a more uniform source of light.

Schneckloth said the use and popularity of LED isn't limited to overhead lights.

"With the ability to do animations, replays and advertising, many fields are also switching to LED scoreboards," he said.