Thursday, September 22, 2005

The Taj Mahal

In the spirit of the friday night lights that are about to switch on, I give you the new pride of Bentonville.

In case you've never seen a massive misappropriation of public resources before, I give you the new Bentonville Tiger Stadium, the crown jewel of the new Tiger Athletic Complex. I may be fuzzy on the exact dollar amount, but this stadium (and 85-yard indoor practice facility, weight room, offices, and locker rooms) cost somewhere around $9 million. That's right, $9 million. For a high school.

According to what you can read in the newspaper, the school district had a massive fundraising effort a few years ago to raise money for the Arts Center/Auditorium and the new football stadium. They raised a good bit of money, but the Arts Center that was built several years ago is very nice and was quite expensive. Because the fundraising was for both facilities, no one really seems to know how much money was left for the stadium.

Meaning that a massive amount of public money was the primary source of funding for this monstrosity. After working in sports information in the SEC, I can say that the practice facilities are nicer than a handful of SEC programs, beginning with the University of Georgia. Mark Richt has been begging for an indoor practice facility since he arrived in Athens. When it rains there, the Bulldogs have to practice on a gym floor in the student rec center.

The mighty Bentonville High School Tigers, however, have a synthetically turfed 85-yard indoor practice field, complete with top-of-the-line weight room and training/rehab room. The weight room is probably about half the size of the Bulldogs weight room, filled with brand new, very nice free-weight machines. Last year, Bentonville played in an aging Old Tiger Stadium near the old high school, that many of the football parents in the 1960's (including Sam Walton) helped to build with their own sweat and labor.

Now, the fair taxpayers of Bentonville have provided the eternally mediocre Tigers with a stadium and football facility that is most certainly nicer than dozens of NCAA 1-AA schools and likely a handful of D-1 schools. Overkill, perhaps? I believe so. It would seem to me that for half of the money, they could have built a stadium that's perfectly adequate for a high school, holds the same # of people (6,000+), has a functional press box, and would certainly last for 30 years or more. Keep in mind that this comes from the same short sighted school district planning folks, who built the high school on one side of a state highway, and built this monstrosity (that includes a new track, baseball, softball, and soccer fields) on the opposite side of the road.

And then they had the gall to suggest that they never really thought about how students would get back and forth. Someone suggested a tunnel under the road.

"Students will fornicate in the tunnel."

Someone suggested a pedestrian bridge.

"It will be the most expensve pedestrian bridge ever built."

So for now, the best idea that they've come up with, is a traffic light going across the highway to the athletic fields, and for students to drive across the street. That's right, they'll drive just as far as they could probably throw a rock, thanks to the visionary leadership of the school board. (The spoiled rich Wal-Mart™ and Vendor™ kids that populate the school would probably refuse to walk anyway.)

If you'd like a tutorial on disaster in practical design, see if you can talk your way into the "press" box. It may be difficult, as it even has a VIP suite that was originally built for handicapped but mostly gets fought over by the 1,000's of Wal-Mart™ and Vendor™ parents who think they're the VIP. Anyway, so far, I think there's maybe two rooms that are used for press. Instead of having one big open room (of which the VIP room is the only one), there are currently two tiny rooms for the press to share inside the "press" box.

One of those has a beam blocking one seat, that runs up from the floor to the ceiling. And seats in two other rooms are blocked by a camera platform that juts out from the front of the press box. Well, you could just open the window and lean out, right? Nope. None of the windows open. Overheard by a friend during a walkthrough of the press box with BHS athletic director Lauren West was the brilliant statement, "I wish we would have gotten windows that opened."

Well, you guys built the press box. It's yours. Why didn't you get windows that opened ???

I think they got somebody to draw a big rectangle on some plans, and then they let an architect-intern who knows nothing about what you need in a press box, plan out what would go inside. It's that bad. I kid you not. Four seats in the press box have their view of the field obscured simply by the poor design of the press box. It was a good first draft, but too bad this was the final product.

The best part is the fancy replay system, complete with Jumbotron on the scoreboard. I"ll leave you with an excerpt from a recent story in the Benton County Daily Record. Brilliant:

"Athletics Director Lauren West said that while the new stadium is more "management friendly," new staff will be added to run not only the stadium but the entire Tiger Athletics Complex.

For example, the new Jumbotron requires a staff of six people that are paid on a pergame basis. These people will be headed by one person, who will also be paid. West said she would eventually like to develop a program for students that allows them to learn the multimedia aspects of running the facility’s electronics.

An estimated six or seven people are needed in the ticket box, she said.

Even when the stadium and other facilities aren’t in use, staff will be required to maintain the facilities. A Tiger Athletic Complex coordinator and assistant coordinator have already been hired. An administrative assistant will also be necessary, she said. The complex will also need a maintenance crew of four to six people throughout the year. The crew will be responsible for maintaining the indoor facilities and making sure the outdoor fields are ready for spring sporting events.

Folks. welcome to Bentonville State University. Or as we like to say, B.S. University.