It’s a scene played out repeatedly last year at the University of North Texas: High school football recruits file onto a bus for a tour of their prospective college campus. Stepping aboard after the players, a bright-eyed tour guide with a Mean Green T-shirt clears her throat.
“Welcome to the University of North Texas,” she exclaims as the bus steers into the heart of the tree-lined campus, driving past a dorm hall and new recreation facility. As the bus throttles across I-35, the players’ excitement is visible: They stretch to look at the vision taking shape out the window – the new stadium of the Mean Green, with seating on one end rising into two Eagle tail-like points, a homage to the school’s mascot. “Here is our new stadium!” the guide announces. “The place where y’all will get to play next year.”
The new 114-foot-tall structure, which makes its debut in September for the UNT vs. University of Houston game, symbolizes a new era for the Mean Green football program. The $80 million stadium, with seating for 30,000, is hoping to become the first new college football facility in the United States (if not the world) with an eco-friendly “platinum” LEED certification. Besides the gleaming new stadium, the program also boasts a new head coach, Dan McCarney, the former Iowa State head coach who earned the Big 12 Conference Coach of the Year and helped lead the University of Florida Gators to a national championship. The aim of all this change? Creating a top-tier football program to usher in Mean Green success on the recycled rubber turf of their futuristic new football field. Deputy Athletic Director Hank Dickenson calls it a major tool in recruiting players. “Parents and kids want to see a commitment to athletics,” he says. “A state-of-the-art $80 million football stadium, designed and built by the same people that built the Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, shows a big commitment.”
The architects, Dallas-based HKS, Inc., designed the stadium to take the place of Fouts Field, which hosted games for nearly 60 years. Sergio Chavez, one of the HKS architects, kept students and alumni supporters in mind while designing every aspect of the new stadium. He says every fan – from the stands to the suite levels – will watch the game without obstructions. “People can stand and you can still see over somebody standing,” he says, waving his hand toward the eagle’s emerald-green, tail-shaped “Mean Green fan zone” at the north end of the field. To help with visibility – a major complaint at Fouts Field – a beaming 49-foot-by-25-foot digital video display board at the south end of the field will project play-by-play scenes.
Standing beneath the tail-shaped fan zone, Sergio – joined by Cassandra Nash, senior project architect for UNT’s facilities planning and construction – shifts the tour’s attention to the open U-shaped stadium seating. Beyond the first-tier of bleachers, seating in the club and VIP levels shoots skyward. The club level will seat more than 500 at a buffet dining area, a bar and two covered patio areas. Floor-to-ceiling windows promise a spectacular view of the action.
The 20 VIP suites at the top each seat 12 fans and drip with amenities, including granite countertops, custom wood cabinetry and air conditioning. One additional suite, built to accommodate 24 fans, will most likely become the president’s suite, says Cassandra. The suite design allows fans to step outside onto a balcony seating area, but those seated inside won’t lose the immediacy of the game. Small windows near the ceiling open so everyone can hear the cheering from the field. “You can get that ambient noise that you lose when you have them all shut,” says Sergio.
Cassandra and Sergio peer out onto the field from the final level of the stadium, a 14,000-square-foot press box. Reporters will view the field from window seats and two patio areas offering an open-air vantage point – a bonus that the university is hoping will lure more press coverage. TV accessibility will be much easier than at Fouts Field, where broadcasters had to literally bring their own wire. “On the south end, we have a little loft for the communications truck,” says Cassandra. “All that backbone is already built into the structure so they can plug their trucks in and they are ready to broadcast.”
As the tour wanders back out of the stadium, the group walks into the concourse area located on the outer ring of the U-shaped bowl. Fouts had eight concession stands and no team stores. The new stadium will have 16 permanent concession stands, 98 concession points of sale and two team stores. Like Fouts, of course, the food will be the usual: hot dogs, nachos and funnel cakes.
While it might not be so obvious to fans, the new stadium is at the forefront of design nationally. It’s not just the easy navigation, roomy seating and top-of-the-line luxury offered to box seat fans. The UNT stadium stands as one of the nation’s only football arenas seeking a platinum Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, certification. While many stadiums boast LEED-certified designs, UNT’s facility aims to be the first completely new stadium with the top platinum certification. The certification requires use of recycled concrete, wood and other reusable materials. Features such as wind turbines and solar panels on the east side of the structure will help power the stadium; a pond will catch runoff rainwater to be used for watering.
Jon Bryan, a Manhattan Construction team member who worked closely on the stadium design, directs visitors’ attention to the native Texas grasses and sustainable landscaping (requiring little watering) in a grove area visible to fans in the nearby tailgating area. “There’s just so much green space around this facility,” says John. “I don’t think you’ll find that anywhere else in the nation.”
he alumni and the football hopefuls who come for tours often stop as they leave for one last look at the sapphire-green Fan Zone jutting into the cloudless Texas sky. Hank Dickenson believes the impact of the new stadium goes beyond its architecture. “A very skilled football staff, combined with the major upgrade in overall facilities for football, will allow for greater success in recruiting,” he says. “The amenities associated with this stadium will allow for increased attendance, a more passionate following and a dramatically improved game-day experience for our players and fans alike.” And that’s just what the university wants: to entice generations new and old to visit the stadium and cheer on the Mean Green.