A Game Changer

Saddleback High School’s new comprehensive 2,500-seat stadium and field house on a difficult site delivers a state-of-the-art, high-performance facility to the community on a modest budget.

For years, Saddleback High School in Santa Ana, California, lacked a proper sports complex that it could call its own. The Roadrunners’ football team played most of its home games at a neighboring high school, and the campus’s existing fields and support facilities were largely run down.

Santa Ana Unified School District (SAUSD) wanted a new multisport stadium and field house that would instill pride in students, faculty, parents and alumni. In a diverse district with 87% of students coming from low-income families, equity, accessibility and visibility were key issues.

But resources were limited, and the site presented a variety of challenges. While expansive, Saddleback’s 36-acre campus occupies an oblong space wedged between residential developments on three sides, railroad tracks along its southern perimeter and commercial properties to its east.

“Land access is at a premium on the campus,” says LPA Design Director Ozzie Tapia. “The school needed flexible and public-facing facilities that addressed both game-day access and daily student use, on a parcel that otherwise feels closed off.”

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Designers reworked the siting of the stadium and field house to make them more visible and accessible to the community.

The challenges were not new for LPA. In recent years, LPA has been working with districts throughout California and Texas to renovate older athletic facilities, helping to build safe, equitable and high-performance facilities without draining budgets.

“Our expertise allowed us to take a comprehensive approach to evaluating Saddleback’s needs and the best way to create value for the project,” says LPA Director of Sport + Recreation Arash Izadi. “To make it work, we really needed to bring in our integrated teams of designers, civil engineers and landscape architects that understood the critical factors of designing sports facilities.”

An existing master plan sited a new stadium closer to the avenue along the campus’s northwest edge, but the main entry and field house were tucked into the campus interior and were largely inaccessible. This siting condition would oblige visitors to enter the campus at a nondescript point and potentially get lost en route to buying tickets and concessions.

“We saw challenges that we could turn into opportunities to enhance the overall experience and use of the facility,” Tapia says.

LPA’s integrated design team focused on creating a sports complex that is efficient, high-performing and tied to its community.

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The new sports complex is efficient, high-performing and brings the facilities to the same level as schools throughout the region.
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The facility is designed for football, soccer, track and field, with state-of-the-art surface materials.

Designers worked with campus staff and user groups to understand what was important to them, and right-sized the facilities to be competitive, while not overbuilding.

“This is a state-of-the-art facility done on a modest budget,” says Tapia. “It also brings the stadium up to the standards of other facilities in the district.”

The 2,500-seat stadium is designed for football, soccer, track and field, plus large events like graduation ceremonies. A new field house “sets the stage” and provides the community a clear landmark and point of arrival. LPA elected to re-site the building at the campus’s northwestern edge, creating a new entry for the stadium and a prominent “billboard for school pride” along the avenue. The entry plaza is easily accessible, precluding the need for new parking.

The 5,000-square-foot field house includes concessions, ticketing, restrooms, dedicated staff spaces, a team room and separate entry points for home and visitors. A high-performance envelope, the use of tubular skylights to optimize daylighting and leveraging natural ventilation and exhaust-only systems contributed to significantly reducing energy usage. “Like the roadrunner, this small but mighty building does more with less, including an overall energy reduction of 74% when compared to similar facilities,” Tapia says.

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The new field house creates a new gateway to the campus.

At the same time, the field house is “not discreet.” It was envisioned to create a “civic moment,” beyond serving as a gateway. That moment gives way to a series of others. Once home and visiting crowds are past the gates, attendees can experience purposeful native landscape on their way to the bleachers. The landscape design provides shade and serves as water treatment areas, akin to mini bioswales.

The new stadium features an Astroturf field and Beynon synthetic track that are designed to the highest standards for head injury prevention. On the tight site, water runoff from the field is treated naturally and allowed to percolate back into the ground; no excess runoff goes into the municipal storm sewer.

Designers focused on “the project’s long-term viability and allowing students to perform at their best,” Izadi says. “It’s an enduring work that is designed to handle maximum wear and tear and enhance the student experience.”

The complex also delivers on the district’s promise to bring equity and accessibility to the campus, with a stadium that brings the sports team to the same level as schools throughout the region. The stadium is already a hit; it has hosted several major regional games and created a new destination for graduation and other seminal campus events.