New Texas high school facility blends old and new elements on campus to serve athletics, educators and the community.
Alamo Heights High School’s new glass-walled athletics building is a multipurpose hive of activity from morning to evening. The games in the stadium draw spectators on Friday nights, but throughout the day the halls and rooms are filled with athletes, students and members of the community, using the spaces and facilities for a wide variety of activities.
“The athletics building is like a student recreation center that you might find on a higher education campus,” says Kate Mraw, LPA’s Director of K-12. “But it’s a unique setting, and the building specifically addresses the school’s larger goals.”
The athletics complex is a hybrid of old and new, which reduced the project budget and maintained the embodied energy invested into these buildings.
On a tight site, the project is nestled into a group of Alamo Heights High School campus structures that have all been recently renovated by LPA, including the Henry B. Orem Stadium to the east, as well as a new dining hall and a STEM classroom building to the west. The facilities surround a new outdoor plaza, complementing the school’s original parklike commons with its canopy of mature oak trees, part of a collective effort to create collaborative, flexible environments throughout campus that encourage students to interact and thrive.
The building’s east wing is tucked under the grandstand of the renovated stadium.
The athletics building is a hybrid of old and new, incorporating the former Sky Gym building completed in 2010, which itself was an expansion of the original Mule Dome. For the athletics building, new facilities were built on the site of the former school natatorium, which was moved off-campus to a shared district-wide facility, but the Sky Gym addition was retained and reclad, reducing the project budget and maintaining the embodied energy invested into these buildings.
Parents are in awe of the new athletic complex when they walk in.
“It didn’t seem right to demolish a 2010 building, even if that would have been easier,” says LPA architect Brita Pearson.“ This was the more sustainable move, and it helps preserve a sense of continuity that’s important to the community.”
LPA landscape architects and interior designers were an integral part of the exploration process, working with coaches, educators and district leaders to analyze opportunities for the new facility to address the broader challenges facing the district. The district’s athletic facilities are focused and centered around students and the community. The new athletics building acts as a front door to the campus: a place to attend school sporting events and non-school-related activities hosted by local groups and businesses. The building’s entry canopy and glass-walled façade can host hundreds of visitors.
Coaches helped design the work spaces above the playing fields.
The district’s athletic facilities are focused and centered around students and the community. The new athletics building acts as a front door to the campus: a place to attend school sporting events and non-school-related activities hosted by local groups and businesses. The building’s entry canopy and glass-walled façade can host hundreds of visitors.
“Parents are in awe of the new athletic complex when they walk in,” says Mike Hagar, Alamo Heights Independent School District’s assistant superintendent of business and finance.
On a constrained site, the design process found space for extra programming by building under the bleachers and connecting athletic and educational goals.
We really tried to prioritize performance of the athlete and make sure that they had high-level playing surfaces that addressed safety issues, including concussions and lower-body injuries.
The building’s east wing is tucked under the grandstand of the renovated stadium, which hosts football, soccer and track events. The lobby, which includes the school’s athletic hall of fame, features wood flooring reclaimed from the original Mule Dome gymnasium and acts as an enlarged entry area to the stadium. It opens directly onto the football field’s 50-yard line.
“It really created this athletic core to the campus,” says Arash Izadi, Director of LPA’s Sport + Recreation practice. “There’s no distinction of where the building ends and the stadium begins. It all just connects and flows together.”
The design connects athletics to the campus.
The fan experience was part of the design process from day one. Besides serving as an entry point for popular fall Friday-night high school football games, the athletics building is designed to host different events concurrently, like a soccer match in the stadium and cheerleading practice in the athletics building. “The idea is that parents could be at a game in the stadium and then go right through the building and be in the gym,” Izadi says.
The athletics building is designed to host a variety of sports and activities. Besides a weight room and new stadium locker rooms, there are fitness classrooms and training spaces. For the fields, attention was paid to choosing surfaces and materials that would best serve the athletes from specific sports, not just football.
An elevated track circles the basketball court, allowing students to cross-train together.
“We really tried to prioritize performance of the athlete and make sure that they had high-level playing surfaces that addressed safety issues, including concussions and lower-body injuries,” Izadi says.
During school days, the athletics building is designed to open to the campus, bringing together different activities and adding a sense of transparency, with tall windows. An elevated track circles the basketball court, allowing students to mingle and cross-train together. Coaches watch practices from floating-box mezzanine spaces above workout areas. The coaching spaces are collaborative, with open workstations and film-viewing spaces.
The design includes training spaces, fitness classrooms and an athletic hall of fame.
“It’s different than what most coaches are used to, but we were responding to what the coaches were telling us about how they could work better,” Pearson says. “It’s such a great work environment. They have the best seat in the house.”
The final design for the athletics building is all about connections — between coaches and athletes, the school and the community, and students pursing different interests. The building breaks down barriers, linking health and wellness and athletics to the larger campus.