Saskatoon

Saskatoon Minor Hockey players can't wait for Merlis Belsher Place

Kelly Boes says a new twin-ice facility at the University of Saskatchewan will be a huge help for hockey parents across the city.

Twin-ice arena will hopefully open by fall 2018, council approved extra $3M donation Monday

The timeline for construction will not be set until all funding for Merlis Belsher Place is in place. (University of Saskatchewan)

Saskatoon Minor Hockey executive director Kelly Boes says a new twin-ice facility at the University of Saskatchewan will be a huge help for hockey parents across the city.

On Monday afternoon, Saskatoon city council voted narrowly to donate an extra $3 million to Merlis Belsher Place. The city had already allocated $1 million to the project last year.

"It's a great day," Boes told CBC Radio's Saskatoon Morning. "It's going to mean a shovel in the ground right away from the university, I believe, which will give us ice by the fall of 2018."

The $41-million project will include a 2,650-seat arena (with room to expand) and will provide much-needed ice time to both the U of S Huskies as well as Saskatoon Minor Hockey.

Ice time has become a serious issue for minor hockey players across the city. Coaches regularly scour the countryside looking for time at rural rinks, and young hockey players regularly drive as much as an hour to get to practices and games.

"If you're looking for ice after Sept. 1, in any of the communities around Saskatoon, good luck finding it," he said. "It's going to be booked already."

Boes believes the city will be getting good value for its money. A report from the city in 2015 said Saskatoon needed one new ice sheet immediately, and another one by 2022. Administration wrote that adding a new ice sheet to an existing arena would likely cost between $6-$8 million to build.

The last indoor rink built by the City of Saskatoon was the ACT Hockey Arena in Sutherland, which dates back to 1981.

"For a $4-million investment, they're gaining a $41 million, world-class facility," he said. "I think it's a lot more than just adding a single ice surface."

However, the vote was tight, and many councillors worried about taking on extra spending projects in a time of provincial government cutbacks. As well, some councillors bristled at the fact that, as of right now, no money is coming into the project from either the provincial or federal governments.

"We all want our garbage picked up and our roads taken care of, but there's many quality of life issues that exist as well," he said. "Families' time together and safety, having to drive out of town, I think those are important issues"

So far, private donors, including Merlis Belsher, have contributed $23.6 million to the Home Ice fundraising campaign. A number of minor hockey teams have also raised money for the project.

With files from CBC Radio's Saskatoon Morning