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Texas Towns Splurge On Stadiums, Skimp On Schools

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As the saying goes, everything is bigger in Texas. But when it comes to high school football stadiums -- and their price tags -- is there such thing as too big?

In February, Katy Independent School District in Texas broke ground on what will be the most expensive high school football stadium ever. Cost overruns and additional expenses have added over $10 million and pushed the final cost up to $70.3 million. It is said to seat 12,000 people, notes USA Today High School Sports.

The Chronicle reported in April that the district’s board of trustees had approved $1.6 million to upgrade adjacent roads. In December 2015, $2.9 million was tacked on for support buildings and increased lighting.

Nearly $1 million that wasn’t in the original budget was spent just to clear the land for construction, according to Covering Katy.

In 2012, the Allen Independent School District, located north of Dallas, completed what was the most expensive facility until Katy’s. Eagle Stadium, which had been approved by voters in 2009, cost $60 million.

The sticker shock may be astounding, but as Forbes notes, many of the school districts that are pumping tens of millions into their football programs are also wealthy suburbs. Allen, for instance, has seen immense growth over the last few decades and has a median household income of around $100,000. The national number is about half that. According to ESPN, Allen is home to 4,000 students today.

Advocates argue that projects like the new stadium are a good strategic move for fast-growing communities that will soon have to compete with urban centers. Texas alone is home to five of the 11 fastest growing cities in the country, according to the Census Bureau. Houston, just east of Katy, added more people between 2014 and 2015 than any other city except New York City.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t local resistance, though. Groups like Grassroots Allen, which grew out of the local Tea Party chapter, did fight the exorbitant plans.

“In many places, that would be a really nice stadium,” Mike Giles, an activist with the group, told the Los Angeles Times while standing outside the district’s old 7,000-seat facility. “But, no, we’ve got to one-up Allen. That’s what started this whole mess."

Three years ago, Katy voters actually killed plans for a larger, 16,000-seat stadium that would’ve cost $69 million. That fact is not lost on residents who are angry about the price increases. One vented in a comment on a Covering Katy story:

72 million was the amount allotted for the stadium in the original bond that constituents did not pass! So the Board spent surplus dollars from previous bonds on the stadium instead of new schools???! And now they need more bond money??? Are they all smoking crack? We definitely need a reconciliation of how each dollar from each bond [was] spent! My vote for any KISD bond free this will be Hell No!!

That fast growth brings its own issues as well, including where to put thousands of new students.

Katy ISD has also been scrambling to accommodate additional students in already overcrowded schools. Superintendent Lance Hindt told Covering Katy that his district alone could see 2,500 new students over the next year.

The cost of a recently completed elementary school? $30 million.

Sources: Covering Katy, Houston Chronicle (2), ESPN, Forbes, USA Today HSS, U.S. Census Bureau / Photo credit: Katy ISD via Houston Chronicle

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