By Brian Besch
For the first time in 87 years, Livingston ISD is building a high school football stadium.
The long-awaited stadium now has color renderings to put in place of what many have dreamed. Work from securing the land to installing a track and turf all began with a master plan created back in 2008. The new Lion Stadium at Corky Cochran Complex is expected to be constructed by the summer of 2026, with the first kickoff that fall.
Though it looks much larger, the actual seating capacity compares closely to the current Lion Stadium. The visitor’s side is within 100 seats of the current stadium, with the home stands within 200 seats. Architects matched needs with current designs across the state, then provided details to make the new football palace a unique home.
If necessary, seats could be added, with plenty of room on the visitor’s side. The home side will prove to be a little more difficult, with concession stands placed near seating. The end zone nearest DeWalt Field House can also serve as a standing-room-only plaza.
“The plan originally was for two concession stands and restrooms to be built on the hill further toward the end zone, but because of the slope of the land, topography and drainage were an issue,” Livingston superintendent Dr. Brent Hawkins said. “Everything that we have tried to work through has been to try to eliminate a lot of maintenance problems for the future. So, that area (beyond the end zone) becomes more of a plaza-type area and it pushed the concession stands and restrooms further toward the stadium. With the 4,000-plus seats on the home side and doing the math, the length of that concession area was longer than what would fit into that space without blocking the entrance to the track on the northwest end.”
The difference for students, staff and the community should be sizeable. Athletic director and head football coach Finis Vanover says any time a program receives the type of facility Livingston is set to construct, the impact is overwhelmingly positive.
“It makes all the difference in the world,” Vanover said. “This will be the fourth one that I’ve built since I have been athletic director, and it changes the entire community. It changes the personality, the attitude, the tenacity and pride is unbelievable. When we built one up there at Diboll, it changed everything. We went on a nine-season run in football and track like they had never seen before. We did the same thing down in Angleton and went on a roll for three straight years three rounds deep (in the playoffs). There were three straight years of district and regional champions and went to the state tournament in soccer. We built a facility in Tomball and it was the same thing. If we can just ever get it done and get our kids in it and the people in it, then they will be saying, ‘Why didn’t we do this 20 years ago?’ Personalities, work ethic – everything will change.”
Vanover said it is not just the students, but coaches will also find Livingston more attractive when interviewing.
“It makes it easier to secure and keep quality coaches,” Vanover said. “It attracts people. I am not going to take my kids into a town where there is a shabby place with no parking and trees hanging over the visiting bleachers with no restrooms, when the one across town looks like a Taj Mahal. I know where I’m putting my kids. I’m sorry, that is just life and that is the way it is. People that move into an area, the first thing they look at is school facilities. People that work there want nice things too.
“When we opened the one at Angleton, we flipped our schedule the year before and fixed it to where I would start off with six home games the year we opened. The excitement was building and we closed out the old stadium with the first district championship they have had in 12 years. It inspired them. We opened the new one and went 6-0 in those home games and won eight straight, playing our first two playoff games in that stadium. We also hosted (neutral site) playoff games the first three weeks of the postseason Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Our boosters netted over $100,000 in just concession sales on those first eight playoff games.
“The hardest thing we have to do is schedule games, because nobody wants to come here. We played six hogpen games this year, and they were all right here. We are surrounded by turf stadiums and everybody has it or is getting it. Just the parking, people want to know where they’re going to put buses and where do our people park. There are 1,200 paved parking spaces here already on the campus, without even adding anything. They are lighted and everything is safe and secure. There is not one drawback about having that facility here. Everything about that decision is positive.”
Included with the seating is a new press box, with rooms for media, camera platform, school board, common area, restrooms and kitchen area.
“What I have tried to remind the board is that when you build a campus, you are building it for 60 years from now,” Hawkins said. “You feel like at the end of that 60-year lifespan, that building is siphoned out to something else. When you look back at buildings that were built 60 years ago, they weren’t really built to accommodate the instructional models that are going on in our classrooms today. It is the same thing with the press box. When you build that thing, you need to make sure that you are building it with an understanding that the high school is probably 60 years, but that stadium is a 100-year building. Why can I say that? We are playing in a 100-year-old stadium. As I told the board, whatever size press box you want, you had better make sure that is the size that will be 20 years from now or 40 years from now, because when that steel goes up there, it isn’t like you can just add on to that. That press box is going to be there, so let’s make sure that we have enough of everything that is in there.”
Hawkins feels that parking and traffic will be an improvement over the current situation. Parking has long been a problem at the current Lion Stadium, with cars lined along neighborhood streets and in or near business lots. The high school has plenty of paved and lighted parking, but with just two exits currently, entering and leaving could prove to be problematic. However, later phases of the project include creating another parking lot, as well as one to two more exits along FM 350.
“No, it is not optimum, but I think that the beauty of this whole thing was that it was a plan that came to fruition,” said Hawkins. “Even before my first day on the job, the board had completed the bond project that built the high school. The fund balance and revenue at that time was sufficient, but there was not enough revenue there to do anything else. At that time, the board said we needed other things. We’ve got probably the most beautiful high school campus in East Texas, but we were going to need some athletic facilities at the high school and some additions. At that point, we can’t pass any more bonds to do that, so how are we going to do it? So, we started planning at that point. We built the tennis courts, we built the track, and really this whole thing took 10 years to get to and being good stewards of the district’s funds. Personally, I don’t know of any other district east of Interstate 45 that has built a stadium of that size with no in-kind donations or any rise in the tax rate. I think it is one-of-a-kind from a financial model to be able to do that.”
One of the things that stands out for Hawkins is the stadium’s aesthetic appeal. A few pine trees currently near the site will need to come down, but the goal is to leave as much timber in place as possible. He feels it is not just part of the landscape, but also provides a scenic backdrop to the campus.
The name from the old stadium will be transferred to the new site unless a change is made. New Lion Stadium is expected to cost between $13 million and $14 million, but $16 million has been budgeted. With a constant demand over the years, there was thought of putting out a bond for the public to vote, but Hawkins said the district has been fiscally responsible for over a decade to fund its construction.
“We have tried, with everything we have done in the district, to give our kids the best that we possibly can. Facility-wise, there are no kids that walk into a high school with a prettier or more functional high school than what we have. Obviously, this (current Lion Stadium) is the oldest facility, and it is time to roll that thing to the high school. It being on campus offers a whole lot of things. People see the game on the field from the community eye, but from the logistics eye of getting the band out of the band hall, all of the auxiliary groups transported and everything moved, as well as the players – it is a Herculean task that now is really just taken away. It will truly be the Lions’ home at that point. Kind of every game for us is an away game and that is the way it is. It is just two miles across town, but it is still an away game. Everything has to be done just like it is done if we were playing in Splendora. The travel is less, but everything has to be managed that way. I am very proud for the kids and staff for that, but I am just very proud that I think our kids and our community can have a source of pride. If you look at those renderings, we’re going to have one of the aesthetically prettiest stadiums in our area.”