More than 27,000 people from across the state descend on Burke High School for two days each May to cheer on athletes at the state track and field meet.
But the stadium, built in 1967, is starting to show its age. Seating and parking are limited. More bathrooms and concession stands could cut down on long lines.
So in May, Burke boosters and alumni will kick off a fundraising campaign to modernize the stadium and bolster the school’s chances of hosting the track meet for years to come.
And the original idea to transform the stadium has morphed into something more ambitious: a $12.85 million multiphase plan to fix up not just the stadium, but also the school’s soccer/band field and baseball facilities.
Much of the project — $10.85 million — would be funded with private dollars. The Omaha Public Schools would kick in another $2 million for a new track and football turf, which were last replaced in 2007.
“This is not just a Burke project, it’s a community project,” said Burke alumna and parent Lisa Carlson.
Burke’s football, soccer, track and lacrosse teams use the stadium, and Creighton Prep’s varsity football team plays its games there. Marching bands from across the metro area compete at the Omaha Marching Invitational. Youth teams and other organizations battle to schedule precious field time. And the ability to host the state track meet translates into extra revenue for Omaha hotels, restaurants and stores, boosters say.
Burke’s contract to host the state track meet extends through 2020. Nate Neuhaus, an assistant director for the Nebraska School Activities Association, said there hasn’t been much interest from other schools. Most don’t have the space to accommodate the crowds drawn to the meet.
But Burke supporters worry that other schools — say Kearney High, which opened a new high school last fall — could make a bid to host the meet.
The proposed upgrades would be financed largely by private donations, similar to other sports projects in OPS that have relied heavily on fundraising. A portion of the fundraising also would fund an endowment for maintenance and upkeep.
Several alumni presented the plan to the OPS board in 2015.
“Student achievement is at the forefront of where they want to put their money,” Carlson said.
Work would be done in phases and depend on how much money is raised. The goal is to complete all projects by 2020.
A fundraising kickoff event, tied to Omaha Gives, is scheduled for May 23 on the Burke football field. The Omaha Public Schools Foundation is helping to coordinate the campaign, too.
Burke is one of three OPS schools with stadiums that haven’t been renovated since they were built. North High is the only OPS high school without a stadium, though plans have been floated to build one there.
Earlier this month the Millard school district unveiled plans for its own $10 million renovation of Buell Stadium, the 1960s-era facility that hosts the annual Nebraska State Bandmasters Association Marching Contest and serves as home field for all three Millard high schools. As with Burke, the upgrades would be funded with private dollars.
Burke parents, coaches and senior Jacob Urban gathered in the office of Holland Basham Architects recently to look at renderings and take a tour through virtual reality headset of the preliminary plans for the new facilities.
Improvements for the stadium would include expanded restrooms, new lights, an upgraded press box and club seating, additional bleacher seats, improved landscaping, a fieldhouse, new fencing, four concession stands, a covered deck, and paving for the west parking lot.
The stadium would be better equipped to meet the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act. A plaza would provide extra standing room for crowds and could be used for team cookouts. Bleacher seating would increase by about 600 — the stadium currently seats about 8,000 — and more banked seating would be available on the hills that surround the stadium.
As plans for the stadium began to take shape, Jacob, a soccer player and aspiring architect, started sketching out ideas for a new soccer facility, which could cost upward of $2 million. Boys soccer coach Nick Bratt told him what he wanted in a soccer stadium, and Jacob’s CAD design/engineering teacher, Ryan Hoy, let him work on sketches during free time in class.
Holland Basham eventually incorporated some of his ideas into its design.
Soccer and lacrosse players and the school’s marching band would be able to use the updated facility. Lights would be added to accommodate later practices, and new buildings for concessions, offices for coaches, locker rooms and storage would be built. The grass soccer field eventually would be replaced with artificial turf.
A new indoor baseball/softball facility would allow players to practice indoors.
“The building itself looks different, but it’s the same concept,” said Jacob, who plans to go to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln next fall. “I’ve been involved in a real-world project. I’m just a little disappointed I won’t get to play on it.”
Recent stadium projects
» Millard recently announced a $10 million proposal to raise private dollars to renovate Buell Stadium, which is the home field for all three Millard high schools.
» Council Bluffs is modernizing Wickersham Stadium, raising more than $15 million in a fundraising campaign.
» The Lincoln Public Schools renovated Seacrest Field in 2015. The $4.5 million project, funded by a bond referendum, replaced both grandstands, the press box and coaching boxes, and it paved the parking lots.
» Omaha South High School opened Collin Stadium in 2009, replacing the old Collin Field, sometimes called “The Hole.” The stadium cost $8.7 million, a mix of private and public dollars, and seats 3,200.
» Central High School opened Seemann Stadium in 2005. The 5,500-seat stadium cost $12.1 million, part of a public-private partnership, and features an artificial turf field and a four-lane, 350-meter track.
— Compiled by World-Herald staff writer Erin Duffy