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Berry Center looks to the future after 12 years in Cy-Fair

October 4, 2018

More than 12 years after finishing construction, the Berry Center of Northwest Houston has become a venue not only for large-scale Cy-Fair ISD events, but a center for worldwide acts and a shelter for Hurricane Harvey survivors.

The Berry Center, which opened in 2006, was funded by a 2001 CFISD bond. The facility was initially met with opposition by some community members, according to comments by CFISD chief of operations officer Roy Sprague in a 2017 article from the Houston Chronicle. Groups like Cy-Fair Citizens directly opposed Berry Center’s construction for fear of the project eventually exceeding the budget.

Sprague said the the center is now receiving a more positive reaction.

“It’s died down tremendously,” he states in the article. “What I think has happened is that some of the naysayers have had the chance for their kids to walk across the stage or use that building for something and realized the benefits of it.”

Berry Center has hosted graduations, staff events, band competitions and more. Beth Wade, director for the Berry Center, said CFISD has priority over scheduling events at the venue, but a variety of groups have utilized the space.

“Just like the (Houston) Rockets — they get their first dates at Toyota (Center) — CFISD gets their first dates here at the Berry Center,” she said. “We compete regularly with Toyota Center and other venues for events, especially touring groups that come through.”

Wade said the Berry Center has provided a closer, cheaper option for both the school district and local citizens looking for entertainment. According to Sprague, CFISD saves $200,000 during graduation season due to having it’s own space. This applies to events like homecoming and prom as well, for which the Berry Center can cater in-house with its two chefs.

“We have grown in our (audiovisual) department capabilities in order to allow the students to have the same experience that they could get if they drove downtown to a hotel,” Wade said. “Not everybody has $1,000 to spend on two prom tickets, and that’s what it can be. We can make things affordable so everyone has the same opportunities and they’re not out on the roads.”

CFISD teachers have training and meetings in the Berry Center. Wade said the events allow teachers to learn in technologically competent space.

“The school district organizes these events to keep our teachers up to the most current technology, or training, or ideas to make the kids as best as they can be,” Wade said. “Now we can hardly find a date available as the demand for teachers to keep up with the newest, the latest and ever changing (technology) that, especially, the internet can provide for them.”

The Berry Center has also been the home for several large-scale events including episodes of the filming of television show American Ninja Warrior, commercials featuring Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt and Golden State Warriors small forward Kevin Duran. Wade said the center is comparable in size and quality to venues in downtown Houston.

During Hurricane Harvey in Aug. 2017 the Berry Center was also a center for safety and shelter . Although the center itself received minor damage, the staff put together a last-minute plan to become a safe space during the storm. At one point, the Berry Center became a point of distribution for supplies.

“The grocery stores and semis would arrive from around the country,” Wade said. “We then changed into providing bleach and mops and diapers and clothes, whatever people needed to start putting their homes together. The school district ran the whole thing without any government support and coordinated through the grocery (stores.)”

Citizens in the area were able to sleep, eat and contact family members at the Berry Center, Wade said. After Hurricane Harvey, Wade said the Berry Center now has a defined plan in place for disasters similar to Hurricane Harvey. CFISD Superintendent Mark Henry and the CFISD chief of staff were advocates for the plan.

Future plans for the Berry Center include competitive gaming, or esports, where teams of video gaming professionals compete in leagues. Wade said she is currently looking for promoters for potential esports events, and is already thinking of where to put the competitions.

“We would use the theater and you would bring in the games that kids are playing,” she said. “There are a lot of professional people and they tend to be the 18- to 34-year-olds that are playing these types of games competitively.”

This past summer, the Berry Center also renovated its stadium, including replacing the entire press box and the field. Wade said the change was needed since the press box was in bad condition after more than 10 years in the sun.

Overall, Wade said the difference between the Berry Center and other popular Houston venues is the location.

“We’re smack dab in the middle of the (school) district and now that the district is all the way around us, it’s hard to miss us,” she said. “You’re seeing really good talent perform. Kids need to be supported and the parents will be able to introduce their kids to all different forms of recreation in their own community.”

chevall.pryce@chron.com

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