The sod is turned and now the University of Saskatchewan is looking to turn a new leaf with a modern arena.
Over 100 people attended a ground-breaking ceremony for Merlis Belsher Place Friday afternoon, the first step in the construction of the facility.
It’ll be located south of the Huskies field house, off of Field House Road.
The arena’s namesake was on-hand with a hockey-stick-handled shovel after donating $12.25 million to the rink, the largest single donation ever received by the U of S.
“It’s sort of like a dream,” Merlis Belsher told reporters after the ceremony.
Tim Hodgson and Dave King, who co-chaired a Home Ice Campaign that raised over $28 million for the arena, were unable to attend.
The arena plans to feature two ice pads – a main sheet for Huskie hockey with 3,437 seats and a second ice pad for minor hockey and other community uses.
It will also house a double gymnasium and dressing rooms for the university’s soccer teams.
If the arena stays on schedule the university plans to open it in time for the 2018-19 hockey season, replacing the now 88-year-old Rutherford Rink.
“In 18 months and three days… grab a pair of skates, some Halloween candy, and join us for the first festivities,” Belsher told the crowd who gathered for the ceremony.
The city is contributing a total of $4 million – $1 million through a grant program for the construction of a city-use sheet of ice, and $3 million to help speed construction.
The start of construction comes just four days after Saskatoon city councillor Darren Hill withdrew a motion to reconsider the additional $3 million.
“I know it was not a simple decision to make,” U of S President Peter Stoicheff said to councillors in attendance. “I know that you made it and stayed with it, and I guarantee the citizens of Saskatoon will be proud of the results.”
‘MY GRANDCHILDREN CAN SHARE’
Another honoured guest at the event was Fred Sasakamoose, who led a Cree blessing and prayer for the arena.
The first-ever Indigenous NHL player marveled at the plans for the arena.
“The facility that you have, my grandchildren can share that with you,” he said.
Mayor Charlie Clark thanked Sasakamoose for reminding everyone why the city agreed to fund the project.
“That’s really what this is about,” he said. “So that young people from all backgrounds and walks of life can come together.”
The university has agreed to provide 1,500 hours of ice time every year to the Saskatoon Minor Hockey Association, a selling point for the city.
SMHA Executive Director Kelly Boes said the access could be mutually beneficial.
“It’s going to create a much better bond,” he said.
“We look forward to many full houses and kids aspiring to play for the Huskies.”
The university released new financial and technical information on the facility Friday, saying the projected bill has already increased by $1.9 million.
Previously pegged at $41 million, Merlis Belsher Place now has a pricetag of $42.9 million.
A press release said the building costs were adjusted due to an update to the architectural plans to “increase spectator access in the facility.”
Part of the increase is due to an additional three rows of seating, which boosted the arena’s capacity from 2,357 to 3,437 seats with 150 standing room allowed.