City breaks ground on new Aquatic and Arena facility

Michael Oleksyn/Daily Herald (L to R) Councillors Ted Zurakowski, Don Cody, Dawn Kilmer, Mayor Greg Dionne, Joe Hargrave, Tyson Dallman, Shannon Schlamp, Lane Gelhorn, Wes Hicks and Jody Boulet posed for a picture during the groundbreaking ceremony for the new Arena and Aquatics Centre project on Thursday.

Construction has officially started on the new Aquatic and Arena Facility.

The City of Prince Albert hosted an official ground-breaking ceremony Thursday morning to celebrate the start of major construction at the southeast Prince Albert site. Prince Albert City Council awarded the tender to Graham Construction LP in June of 2022, and on-site work started later that same month. Site preparation occurred last year.

Mayor Greg Dionne said the idea of building a new indoor recreation centre was something people were talking about when he first ran for mayor 10 years ago. He’s excited to see construction underway, and hopeful the building will improve opportunities for minor hockey teams and the local swim club.

“This new facility is going to open up such opportunities for them to grow their clubs because now they are going to have a competition pool,” Dionne said. “They are going to be able to train here and not have to go to Saskatoon, and the same thing with hockey. People don’t realize why the two new rinks were started and how important it was.”

Dionne said Prince Albert has so many minor hockey players that some teams were forced to find ice time at the rink in St. Louis. That involved travel down a narrow highway that could become dangerous during the winter.

He added that the new facility would help boost Prince Albert’s economy by allowing local teams to host more and more competitions and tournaments.

“People don’t understand what a facility this is,” he said. “It’s not only for a training centre and ability to grow your community, it’s also economic development. You have heard both clubs say that they will be able to hold provincial and interprovincial events, (and) we haven’t been able to do that. To get our kids to practice and give you higher levels (of competition), that’s a great thing to have.”

Dionne said a fundraising arm for the project will be announced in the next month to six weeks. The City still needs financial help to make the final payments, which aren’t due until year two and three. Dionne said he’s confident they have enough time to raise the money.

The indoor recreation centre is the first of three development phases. The others include the new WHL arena for the Prince Albert Raiders, and then finally the main branch of the library.

“We continue to work on that,” Dionne said. “Our challenge today is just funding. The plans are well under way.”

The facility will also be surrounded by the new Signature Developments project called The Yard, which is going to include other entertainment aspects and bring in tax dollars to the City.

Once completed, the facility southeast of Marquis Road and Sixth Avenue East will include on the aquatics side, an eight-lane, 25-metre competitive pool, 200 spectator seats, combined leisure, splash and wave pool, lazy river, two water slides, along with a whirlpool. On the arenas side, it will include two NHL-sized rinks each 200 feet by 85 feet, seating for 366 in one rink and 608 in the other rink, player dressing rooms totaling 6,720 square feet and referee dressing rooms totaling 800 square feet. The facility is expected to open in 2024.

Tyson Dallman director of hockey operations for Prince Albert Minor Hockey said adding the extra ice surfaces will ease the challenges around ice time. They currently have anywhere from 750 to 850 players registered over and above programs like the Prince Albert Mintos and Prince Albert Northern Bears.

“So with them eating up ice times, along with the Raiders and other skating clubs, we fight to try and get our kids on the ice in city facilities,” Dallman said.

“It’s a challenge in every community, and if we can add an extra surface, that’s, to say it simply 24 hours a day of extra ice time sitting there. If we can get that and distribute ice time to kids, it only helps development. It helps more players play. If they can be on the ice more, they have more fun, they enjoy it, and hopefully they keep coming back.”

With the new facilities and the potential hotels and restaurants in the adjacent area, Dallman hopes that it can also increase interest in hockey.

“We are going to be bringing people from out of town here and we hope that that drives the interest in our community for more kids to play,” he said.

The possibility of being able to host even larger tournaments is also part of the reason for the facility. Dallman said Saskatoon draws almost all the major tournaments right now, because Prince Albert doesn’t have the arenas to handle multiple games.

“Nowhere else really has a facility,” he explained. “That can facilitate multiple games in an area where there are restaurants and hotels, and parents don’t have to worry about driving across the city all of the time. We get into this spot here for a weekend they may not have to leave the entire weekend until they turn around to go home.”

Shannon Schlamp, president of the Pikes Artistic Swimming Club, said their club has been without a home since Marion Aquatics closed last June. They have been sharing the Frank Dunn Pool with the Prince Albert Sharks since, but are looking forward to having a larger pool to practice in.

“That’s the biggest thing. We just need a home and we also need a large enough facility,” Schlamp said. “Even Marion was tight, so this new facility will have the depth, (and) the pool size so that we can run competitions.”

The Pikes currently practice in Saskatoon due to space constraints at the Frank Dunn. Schlamp said it’s difficult for the swim club to master their routines without enough room.

Lane Gelhorn, vice president Prince Albert Sharks sai,d that they also need an expansion of space and water depth because they need to practice for fast starts.

“Our swimmers have been making due with practice in the deep tank,” he explained. “They can get one dive in, but they can’t get the full 15 metre stroke, so we are at a bit of a disadvantage relative to other speed swimming clubs.

“This really helps us to be able to train and ready for a race, but more than that it allows us to host swim meets.”

The last time the Sharks were able to host a meet was over a decade ago. Once the need indoor rec centre gets completed, they’ll be able to host junior provincials, which attracts athletes from all over Saskatchewan, and sometimes swim clubs in Lloydminster, Flin Flon, or The Pas.

“We are really excited about being able to bring people to our community,” Gellhorn said. “That’s really wonderful for us.”
Currently the Pikes have 20 to 25 members and are trying to rebuild somewhat after the closure of the Marion Aquatic Centre.

“Saskatchewan Artistic Swimming is incredibly supportive of us and they are telling us we will be hosting interprovincial and provincial events in this new facility,” Schlmp said. “They actually sat at the table somewhat with the planning and made sure that the facility was the proper size and they sent letters of support.”

Meanwhile, the Sharks have 70 to 75 members ranging in age from beginners to Masters swimmers.

Both clubs are looking forward to the facility being opened.

Under the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program, the Government of Canada is funding up to $24 million toward the project and the Government of Saskatchewan is contributing up to $19,998,000. The City of Prince Albert is funding the remainder.

“Recreational facilities like the one being built in Prince Albert are cornerstones of our communities – they are where kids can learn to swim, where seniors can stay active, and where lifelong friendships are formed. Working with our provincial and municipal partners, we will continue building stronger and more vibrant communities, in Saskatchewan and across the country,” Dominic LeBlanc, Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, Infrastructure and Communities said in a release.

“The Government of Saskatchewan’s more than $19.9 million investment for the Aquatic and Arena Recreation Facility will help this City of Prince Albert project move from vision to reality. Once it opens, this new infrastructure will enhance recreational and cultural opportunities for city and area residents, and for all who visit and do business in the province’s third-largest city, which serves as Saskatchewan’s ‘Gateway to the North,'” Joe Hargrave, MLA for Prince Albert Carlton, on behalf of the Hon. Don McMorris, Saskatchewan’s Minister of Government Relations said in a release.

Speakers at the ground-breaking included Dionne, Schlamp, Dallman, Gelhorn and Hargrave before the ceremonial gold shovels were used.