Merlis Belsher stands outside the entrance of the new U of S multi-sport facility named in his honour. (Photo: James Shewaga)

Merlis Belsher Place: Let the games begin

Alumnus Merlis Belsher said he is humbled to be a part of the university’s “thoughtful and brilliant” effort to bridge the needs of the Huskies, minor hockey players, and the Saskatoon community in the new sports facility on Preston Avenue.

When Merlis Belsher toured the university’s new multi-sport complex in advance of its opening, he said he was overcome with “extreme gratitude” for his alma mater.

“The education I received at the University of Saskatchewan enabled me to have an enjoyable career in a city and province I love,” he said.

This sentiment is at the heart of his multi-million donation to found Merlis Belsher Place.

Belsher gave $12.25 million to kick-start the Home Ice Campaign to replace Rutherford Rink—the largest single donation in U of S history. The drive to replace the aging rink had surfaced numerous times in the decades before, but had not gained traction until a concerted effort by the university and its volunteers began in 2016.

“When I was approached about the campaign, I determined it was going to take a substantial contribution to gain momentum,” he said.

Indeed, more than 400 alumni, community members and organizations followed his lead, collectively raising $29-million towards the $51-million facility. It opened for the start of hockey season on Oct. 1, with the official grand opening ceremonies set for Oct. 26-27.

Completing construction of the facility in a relatively short period of time was due to a true team effort, said Belsher. He recognized that the university prioritized decision-making on this venture and Wright Construction—with its diligent team, including sub-trades—ensured the ambitious deadline would be met.

“Imagine what must have been accomplished for this facility to be functional for October 1, 2018, when the first shovel in the ground was on May 7, 2017,” he commented.

Belsher said one of the most satisfying experiences was being included in the design process and seeing the architecture plans unfold.

“The front entrance was the most important to me,” he said, noting that when the design team revised the entrance-way to a curved facade, it looked more elegant and welcoming—on par with the rest of the university’s buildings.

When Belsher attended a facility tour hosted by Edwards School of Business for its centennial in September, he was happy to see that many alumni noticed the tremendous level of detail that went into the project.

“The common sentiment I heard that weekend was ‘They’ve thought of everything,’” noted Belsher.

Notable design elements include a wide concourse that wraps all the way around the Huskies’ rink, spacious equipment storage and laundry areas, and increased spectator seating for the future. There are also unique features in the Huskies’ team rooms that cater to the specific needs of the men’s and women’s players and their coaches—which all point to the collaborative nature of the planning process. Belsher said the university gathered input from all those who would benefit from the facility, including coaches, athletes, students and partners, to ensure their needs would be met for decades to come.

As plans are finalized for the grand opening weekend, which will include Huskie men’s and women’s hockey games as well as a community open house, Belsher said he is most excited to see the reactions of fans visiting the new complex for the first time.

“There’s been such widespread interest by the Saskatoon community for this facility,” he said. “It’s going to be fantastic to see the facial expressions and hear the comments of spectators!”

For more information about the grand opening festivities, please visit usask.ca/merlisbelsherplace.

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