Olympic speedskaters bidding for SFU home

Nov 28, 2002, vol. 25, no. 7
By Marianne Meadahl



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It's far from being a done deal. But the buzz about a proposed skating oval to be built at SFU, if Vancouver's bid for the 2010 Winter Olympics is successful, is picking up steam.

“It'll be huge for SFU,” predicts Wilf Wedmann (left), director of athletics and recreational services. He sees big potential for Clan athletes and SFU recreational members and the wider communities on and off campus with the development of the facility, the largest and most expensive facility planned for the games. “This can really put us on the map in new and exciting ways.”

Representatives of the Vancouver 2010 Bid Corporation brought that message to campus in October, when an information booth in the east concourse drew more than 400 people. While a new city council grapples with the idea of a referendum over the games, the corporation's awareness campaign continues, with further information sessions planned for SFU in January and February. An Olympic technical evaluation team is expected to visit the campus in March.

While the designs are preliminary, pending public consultations that would likely stretch through 2004, they give an idea of what SFU can expect.

The oval would be built on SFU land at the southwest end of campus below the residences. The proposed plan is to build a flat, rectangular facility that would be tucked into the hillside, potentially taking advantage of the breathtaking view along the south side. A terraced roof is just one approach being considered, but such details would require further study.

“It is a very simple plan,” says Rick Johnson, associate vice-president, administration, noting the oval's floor area would be equivalent to nearly 10 per cent of the existing campus building area — more than large enough to house two full sized hockey rinks. It will hold 8,000 seats during the Olympics, 2,000 of which will be permanent, and features a convertible design to accommodate both summer and winter sports. “Nothing is yet carved in stone. What we have to date gives us some idea of what's possible.”

The facility's price tag is estimated at $65-$70 million, a major portion of the bid corporation's $170 million venue construction and upgrade budget. Funding comes from the federal and provincial governments' shared $620 million investment towards Olympic venues.

An operating endowment - a legacy trust - would be put in place to fund the majority of the facility's long-term operating costs and would be the shared responsibility of SFU and a management committee. The proposed plan is for the facility to be shared a third of the time each between SFU, elite athletes and the public, with the university carrying its third of the costs. It would offer the added bonus of serving as a field house, complete with an artificial field, a potential plus for varsity and club teams.

“We're ecstatic with the cooperation and leadership at SFU,” says Bruce Wasylik, manager, sport technical, for the bid corporation. While a memorandum of understanding is still being negotiated, the business principles have been approved by the university's board of governors, subject to approval of the final document.

“I think we've really benefited from having the university as a partner sitting in on the bid phase.” The corporation has until Jan. 10 to produce its official bid book.

“It's not just about putting up a building,” Wasylik adds.

“SFU has been right on top of things, looking to see not only how sports can benefit but how they can tap into resources that go beyond the needs of athletics, and also address the needs of a new residential community, carrying on beyond 2010.”

Wasylik says SFU was chosen as the optimal location based on input from the sport community, and the fact that the success of the Calgary oval (built when that city hosted the winter Olympics) could be directly attributed to its close proximity to the University of Calgary.

Surveys show more than 80 per cent of students and faculty have used the facility while more than 90 per cent of users take at least one course at the university.

Johnson says the facility should be completed two years before the games, allowing time for tests to ensure it meets the high standards required of Olympic calibre venues.

Read more about the vision for the potential of the speedskating oval for SFU.

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