Copyright © 2013 Albuquerque Journal
It may lack a sexy name, but when Community Stadium officially opens for business next month, it immediately becomes one of the premier football facilities in New Mexico.
And it is the core of a proposed 200-acre multi-purpose sportsplex expected to eventually include a track stadium (as early as next spring), baseball and softball fields, tennis courts and a massive soccer complex.
Construction on the $38.3 million Albuquerque Public Schools football complex, located on 110 acres just north of I-40 off 98th Street – with a fantastic view overlooking the city from the West Side bluffs – is very nearly complete.
Early reviews are glowing.
“Once people see it,” said Brad Winter, APS’ chief operating officer as well as an Albuquerque city councilor, “they’ll understand.”
The gates swing open officially at the new stadium on Wednesday, Aug. 28, with a varsity football game between Volcano Vista and Manzano.
“It’s sweet,” Hawks coach Chad Wallin said of the stadium. “It really is. We’re pretty excited.”
It is the first new football stadium for APS since Wilson Stadium opened in 1963. Milne Stadium opened in 1939.
APS athletic director Kenny Barreras said the stadium may even have broader appeal.
“Quite honestly, it’s a perfect venue for state high school football,” Barreras said. “I have every intention of trying to introduce it as a common site for all high school (championship) games. Whether it goes that far or not, I don’t know.”
Football is the only sport sanctioned by the New Mexico Activities Association that does not utilize either Albuquerque or Rio Rancho as a regular site for state championship events. Title games are, for the most part, played on home campus sites. Exceptions would be places like Milne and Wilson, and the Field of Dreams in Las Cruces.
“We want to showcase New Mexico football,” Barreras said. “I think it would be a great environment.”
The 7,500-seat football stadium rivals the facilities at high schools like Hobbs, Artesia and Cleveland, which are among those with the most aesthetically pleasing stadium set-ups, and also the Field of Dreams in Las Cruces near Mayfield High.
Community Stadium is also one of the largest in the state, in terms of capacity. By comparison, Wilson Stadium seats about 5,800 fans, Milne about 6,000, according to Barreras.
In Class 5A, Hobbs’ Watson Memorial Stadium is the largest prep stadium, with a capacity of nearly 13,200. Cleveland High seats roughly 8,000, and Rio Rancho High was just expanded from 4,500 to 7,500.
APS eyed two previous parcels before settling on this one for Community Stadium. The first choice, Winter said, was near 118th Street and I-40; the other was next to Atrisco Heritage Academy High School, also off 118th Street but farther south.
SMPC Architects of Albuquerque designed the facility. The first earth was moved in February 2012.
“To have a brand new stadium on the West Side, where a lot of our new schools have been built in the last six years, is exciting,” Winter said. “We couldn’t have picked a better site.”
APS has transformed opening weekend of the prep football season into an event unlike any other in the district’s sports history.
Community Stadium will host seven varsity games over a four-day period, including an evening doubleheader on Aug. 30 and three games on Saturday, Aug. 31.
All but one of the APS varsity teams play their season opener there. La Cueva, which opens at Cleveland, kicks off Week 2 at Community Stadium.
It will be the regular home site for Volcano Vista, West Mesa, Atrisco Heritage and Cibola.
“It’s one of those things we’ll be able to talk about for years and years to come,” Volcano Vista’s Wallin said of the opening game.
Both home and visitor locker rooms are more spacious and luxurious than the ones at Milne Stadium and especially Wilson Stadium.
Fans should find the experience enriching, too.
There are great viewing sightlines, with equal seating capacity on both the east and west bleachers.
“We went a long way to make it good for a lot of people,” Barreras said.
The below-ground playing surface bears a resemblance to Artesia’s Bulldog Bowl. It was done, Winter said, to appease nearby residents who had concerns both about the glare of the lights and noise on game nights.
There are large concession areas at the four corners of the stadium, two ticket booths, plus a state-of-the-art, air-conditioned press box for officials, coaches and media.
“It’s going to be a great thrill, a great venue, and something that they (kids) will remember,” Barreras said.
By next spring, the 2,000-seat track stadium, located immediately east of the football stadium, will be ready to host meets. The football/track set-up is identical to the one at the University of New Mexico, where the track is connected to the football stadium.
And, APS has plans, perhaps as early as 2016, to add two baseball fields, four softball fields and 16 tennis courts to the east and north sides of the complex.
As yet, Winter said, there is no funding source for those fields/courts.
Winter said the city is looking to purchase 80 acres just west of the football stadium. That parcel would feature soccer fields, he said. Assuming that comes to fruition, the entire sports complex would envelop about 200 acres.
For APS athletics, the new stadium is alleviating some of the burden on the playing surfaces at Milne and Wilson. Those facilities have hosted all levels of football for five-plus decades.
With Community Stadium joining the rotation, APS should be able to extend the life of the playing surfaces at all three locations.
Between varsity and sub-varsity games, Barreras said, Milne and Wilson will host – combined – between 60 and 70 fewer games in 2013 than they did in 2012.
The two most recent Fieldturf surfaces at Milne and Wilson took a pounding and were severely worn down when APS replaced them prior to the 2012 season at a cost of about $600,000.
Community Stadium has a turf from Georgia-based UBU Sports. The NFL’s New Orleans Saints also use that surface.
Winter expects the new stadium also to provide an economic boost to the city, with the prospect of new homes and businesses dotting the area around the complex.
“It’s creating a real buzz,” he said.
APS will take possession on July 21. Eventually, it will build a new high school and middle school on part of the parcel that includes the sports complex.
Karen Alarid, APS’ director of facilities design and construction, said the new stadium might even host graduation ceremonies next spring.