On May 7, McKinney voters will head to the polls to decide on a $220 million school district bond package. It includes plans for school upgrades, new technology and a 12,000-seat stadium and event center.
Like many North Texas cities, McKinney started out as a farming community. Its first school was a cabin built by a judge in 1858.
These days, it’s not hard to find McKinney on the list of fastest-growing cities and, two years ago, as the best place to live in the country. That growth -- and attention -- is one of the reasons some here say it’s time to build a new sports stadium.
The current one, Ron Poe Stadium, was built in 1962 and seats nearly 7,000 people. It sits behind the district’s administration building, next to a middle school and baseball fields, and across the street from an apartment complex.
“The new 12,000-seat McKinney ISD stadium will serve the needs of the district now and when the district is home to five or six 3,000-student high schools and also serve the district for the next 60 years.”
That’s from a video on the district’s website that explains how money from the $220 million bond package would be spent. Part of it, $50.3 million, would go toward the stadium and would include 2,400 parking spaces and a community event room.
McKinney ISD officials didn’t return KERA’s phone calls or emails for this story.
The district began a growth spurt in the mid 1990s. Back then, it had about 7,000 students. Today, it has more than 24,000 kids.
The growth is visible as you drive around town or visit the bustling historic town square.
Aaron Rollins, who owns Mom & Popcorn, was a senior in high school when he moved to McKinney in 1995. He said he’d rather see a stadium built on the property off Highway 121 and Hardin Boulevard than another strip mall.
“If that’s what the town needs in terms of growth and generating revenue, I have no problem with it,” Rollins said. “There’s nothing there now. Back then, it used to be an old outlet mall that when I was a kid I used to roller blade in it when it was abandoned with other kids. You know? Now it’s been bulldozed and it’s just sitting there.”
In recent years, cities in Texas have generated headlines for their large, modern sports stadiums. Next door to McKinney, is Allen’s much-talked about $60 million dollar, 18,000-seat stadium. When it opened in 2012, many called it the most expensive high school stadium in the country. But two years later, it had to close because of structural problems. It reopened last June in time for graduation.
In Katy, just outside of Houston, the school district recently broke ground on a $61 million stadium that will seat 12,000 people.
Then, there’s Frisco. The school district and the city have teamed up with the Dallas Cowboys to open the Ford Center at The Star. The sprawling complex includes a 12,000-seat indoor stadium that will open in August. The price tag? More than $250 million, although the Frisco school district is kicking in $30 million.
Rollins said he sees how McKinney’s football teams bring together the community each Friday night in the fall.
“I’m from California originally and I came from a very liberal arts school where kids were hacky-sacking and throwing Frisbees, and I came here to the Friday Night Lights den -- this was the heart of it,” Rollins said. “And I’d watch people from counties come to these football games and I said, ‘this is amazing. I’ve never see anything like it. How many people come out and support these high school teams.’ ”
Not everyone in McKinney is a fan of plans to build a new stadium. Mike Giles is semi-retired and part of a political action committee called Grassroots McKinney. He says when you add the cost of land and infrastructure improvements, the stadium’s final cost will be much higher.
“I mean they really want this football stadium,” Giles said. “This is kind of like the Taj Mahal that’ll make them like the big guy on the block. I think.”
Giles says he’s not opposed to the entire $220 million bond package. More than $60 million would pay for district wide upgrades to roofs, heating and air conditioning units and plumbing and electrical systems.
Another $51 million would pay for additions and renovations to schools. Money would also be spent on security cameras and technology upgrades.
Giles said he wants the focus to stay on the classroom.
“Why don’t we get our academics up? I mean, athletics are important. Don’t get me wrong. I played football. I like sports, they’re good But they don’t have to be Cadillac sports,” Giles said. “And I think what they’re doing now is everybody’s gotta have a bigger and better football stadium than somebody else and they forget their academics.”
In addition to battling it out on the field, Giles said, districts are battling off the field, too -- each one trying to outdo the other with their fancier new stadium.