Wright Construction will begin laying the foundation for the new multi-sport arena—located just south of the Saskatoon Field House—with piling work set to start in early May. The event brought together numerous supporters of the project, including campaign contributors and volunteers, community members, the City of Saskatoon, Huskie athletes, Saskatoon Minor Hockey players, as well as university alumni, staff and students. Those in attendance represented the diverse and collaborative nature of the initiative.
U of S President Peter Stoicheff noted the importance of the many community relationships which have facilitated progress on the project.
“Developing strong partnerships has never been more important to us than it is today, and Merlis Belsher Place is a great example of the power and potential of these partnerships,” he said. “Thanks to our community’s diverse and generous support, I’m pleased this facility will make a real difference in the lives of our athletes and their families, and contribute to the health and economic impact of our city.”
The university’s Home Ice Campaign volunteer team—consisting of many alumni and former Huskie athletes across Canada—has raised $28.4 million in the last year to help build the new facility, which will replace the 88-year-old Rutherford Rink. The public campaign kicked off last October when the university unveiled commerce and law graduate Merlis Belsher’s leading gift of $12.25 million—the largest donation from an alumnus and individual in the university’s history.
Recent major gifts that have helped propel the fundraising team towards the $29 million campaign goal include a $2.51 million contribution from Huskie hockey alumni in early April, the City of Saskatoon’s additional $3 million commitment to the project in February, and Ron and Jane Graham’s $4 million gift in December to add two gymnasiums to the arena.
Tim Hodgson, chair of the Saskatoon Home Ice Campaign committee, credits the success of the fundraising team to the wide-ranging impact of the new arena—for both university athletes and Saskatoon residents.
“The community has really supported this project because it will benefit so many,” he noted. “On one level, anyone with a connection to the Huskies knows that we need a new facility, for the sake of the programs. On another level, we have supporters who have a very strong connection to the community, who recognize the benefits to Saskatoon minor hockey. And there is incredible sports tourism potential—for provincial, regional and national championships in sports like ringette, figure skating, short track speed skating and lacrosse.”
Hodgson leads the Home Ice Campaign team alongside his former Huskie hockey coach, campaign chair Dave King.
Since the fall, the architectural plans for Merlis Belsher Place have been enhanced to increase spectator access in the facility—adjusting building costs from $41 million to $42.9 million. Three additional rows of seating have been added to the plans—a 46 per cent increase to allow for 3,437 seats compared with the original plans for 2,357.
It is estimated that the twin-ice, multi-sport complex will be open for the start of the hockey season in October 2018, while the two NBA-length practice gymnasiums will be ready for Huskie basketball in 2019.
Belsher, lead donor and community advocate for the Home Ice Campaign, said he felt emotional and excited about reaching the groundbreaking milestone so quickly.
“It’s been a privilege to be involved in this campaign and see the momentum that was built in the community for this project,” he said. “I knew there was an urgent need for a new ice facility, not only for the University of Saskatchewan, but also for Saskatoon minor hockey. So it is gratifying to see that there will be ice in the fall of 2018.”
For updates on the Home Ice Campaign, please visit give.usask.ca.