New Venues Inspire Arlington ISD Students to Perform Like the Pros

The Arlington Independent School District hopes to change the game with its new Visual and Performing Arts and Athletics Centers, which give students across age levels and disciplines an opportunity to learn and perform like the pros. The district capitalized on the idea of creating a community venue, one that stretched its arms out to the Entertainment District and placed the arts in Arlington on the same stage as the world-class sporting venues nearby. The backdrop of AT&T Stadium and Globe Life Park to the north of the center give students a vision of what they can achieve if they stick to their passions and strive for professional level pursuits. 

To provide a front door to the Center for Visual and Performing Arts and the Athletics Center, a pedestrian-focused “main street” was created, with a tree-lined plaza and park-like space for the arts lawn, where Arlington residents and visitors will be able to stroll and admire student sculptures. The lawn also has room for a future amphitheater.

HKS Director of Education Leonardo Gonzalez Sangri said it’s rare for a school district to build professional-level facilities for arts and athletics students, but Arlington ISD officials wanted the project to exemplify their commitment to their students and an investment in their future. The HKS team hosted visioning sessions with students, families, district officials and other stakeholders to deliver a project that met their needs and exceeded their expectations.                                                                                                                

It’s rare for a school district to build professional-level facilities for arts and athletics students.

An Athletics Center That Fits In, and Stands Out

Arlington ISD’s Athletics Center was built to host indoor sports – such as wrestling, basketball and volleyball – that didn’t have adequate room on the district’s existing campuses. The center also houses the district’s first natatorium with a Myrtha swimming pool, built in Italy and shopped to Texas in pieces, for regional swim meets. The Olympic-style pool is designed to minimize wake and give all swimmers access to clean water, leveling the playing field for the young athletes and giving them the coveted chance to use the same type of pool that professional swimmers use.

“I’ve been coaching swimming for more than 30 years, 21 with Arlington ISD,” said Lamar High school head swim coach Brian Dangelmaier. “For all of those years, our whole district staff has yearned and dreamed for our own pool.”

To bring this dream to life, HKS designers considered athlete comfort, the stage fright or nervousness that may arise in front of large crowds, when determining the size of the facility. The completed center resembles a world-class athletics venue but offers a more intimate viewing experience for athletes’ families and friends, with a capacity of up to 1,000 spectators at the natatorium and 1,350 in the arena. All high schools within the district have the ability to schedule games and meets at the athletics center, thanks to its ability to morph its interior through an LED light package. The center will also house an Arlington ISD Athletic Hall of Fame to showcase athletes’ achievements from over the years.

“It’s exciting to be able compete in an arena that honors our athletes and celebrates their hard work,” said Shelby Clark, Arlington High School girls’ basketball head coach, when the center opened. “I think in time it will prove to be a place that our players value greatly and remember fondly. The quality of the scoreboard, court, goals, locker rooms and seating are sure to make Arlington student athletes feel very special.”

When school isn’t in session, the school district plans to host athletic clinics and community meets at the facility to help generate revenue for it.

Helping Students Uncover New Talents in the Arts

The adjacent Visual and Performing Arts Center houses a concert hall, theater, instrument repair shop, piano class, arts studio, and an arts gallery. AISD officials hope the center will inspire students to uncover their potential and explore on-stage and behind-the-scenes career paths in the arts.

When planning for Fine Arts facilities, many schools opt for a large, multi-use, performance venue, for student-led concerts and plays. While these venues are able to accommodate various uses, they are rarely able to elevate to world-class performance. HKS proposed a different setup for Arlington ISD’s new Center for Visual and Performing Arts, with dedicated spaces and specialized features for each performance type.

The CVPA’s 1,200-seat concert hall was designed to deliver acoustical quality second only to the top professional venues in the region like the Meyerson Symphony Center or Bass Hall, where the building is an instrument to itself and can be tuned according to the needs of each performance. A separate 450-seat theater with a scene shop close by allows actors and crews to captivate audiences with a variety of tools. Older students interested in drawing and sculpting can curate their own show at the center’s sleek arts gallery as part of their introduction to lesser-known careers in the arts industry.

Every element of the design was intended to surprise and delight families when they visit.

Wooden pieces enveloping the performance hall resemble the pulse of piano keys, and an LED ceiling display with changeable colors offers a modern touch for audience members to enjoy. The hall doesn’t require a proscenium since it isn’t a multi-use facility, allowing for the sound for the audience to be as good as the chamber for musicians and performers.

Students also have access to high-quality Steinway & Sons pianos, similar to pianos used in international professional competitions like the Van Cliburn. One of the pianos offers another personal touch: it was built with wooden boards that Arlington ISD students and staff signed during a field trip to the Steinway factory in New York in 2018.

Dr. Christopher Anderson, CVPA’s Director of Fine Arts, said the highlight for him is seeing students step into the building for the first time.

“Their eyes are just as big as saucers, like ‘wow,’” he said. “There’s a sense of inspiration that happens and what it results in is a feeling that you’re in a professional environment. You want to play just a little bit better; you want to perform just a little bit better.”

CVPA Director Christopher Bryant is charged with finding ways for students to engage with professional artists and see what it’s like to pursue the arts professionally. He plans to invite professional artists to host their concerts at the center when school isn’t in session, with the option to host a masterclass for Arlington ISD students or perform a set with them.

The long-term goal has always been for students to explore the many career paths they can take after graduating Arlington ISD and have leverage over students from other schools if they decide to apply to a collegiate program.

“This center is all about the students,” Bryant said. “It’s all about pride and cultivating their gifts and talents.”

“We described this project as a bridge to student futures: How can these buildings be the bridge to prosperous futures for the students of Arlington ISD?” Gonzalez Sangri said. “That was our charge. We wanted to take our clients’ vision and deliver something that they couldn’t imagine themselves.”