BURNABY — It’s actually going to happen.
A covered athletic field house to stage football games at Simon Fraser University first reached the stage of artist renderings in the early 1990s.
More recently, its monetary particulars had become a subject of debate between the school and its students.
Yet after massive discrepancies in initial cost estimates versus actual project cost, a common ground has been reached, and on Tuesday the university announced plans for an 1,800-seat, roofed-stadium facility (covered grandstand seating) to be built on campus at Terry Fox Field, potentially operational by April of 2020.
“It’s historic, it’s the first time that we will have a permanent outdoor home on our campus,” said Simon Fraser athletic director Theresa Hanson of a school which began its second half-century of operation in the fall.
“Our students can come together and we can celebrate our school spirit, engage our alumni. It will be huge for our students to come out and enjoy that sense of community.”
The as-yet-unnamed stadium would occupy the same Fox Field location that presently plays home to both the men’s and women’s soccer teams, the track and field team, and the football team which has of late, migrated the vast majority of its schedule to nearby Swangard Stadium.
In addition to permanent, covered seating, additional details of the project’s first phase call for a full press box area and washroom amenities.
Total cost of the project is believed to be in the range of $13-14 million, with $10 million coming from Simon Fraser University students.
The university has committed to supply any of the project’s cost over-and-above the $10 million.
Without question, the recent history of the project has traversed some bumpy roads.
A student referendum to support the project to the tune of $10 million had been passed, but in June, the cost estimates came in at over $30 million.
“It came back exorbitantly high and that caused pause with the SFSS (Simon Fraser Student Society),” said Hanson. “And rightly so. The referendum was for $10 million. That is what the students voted for.”
SFU’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) worked at its proactive best, and through continued dialogue between the them, the SFSS and the university, a solution was achieved.
The initial $30-plus million project package included more ambitious seating capacity and design, and also required substantial site excavation and seismic upgrades to accommodate other facets of its plan.
The project unveiled Tuesday is stripped back, but meets the bottom line of expediting shovels to soil and creating a grand-scale gathering point for SFU’s 35,000 member student-body from the opening of classes in September through the spring months.
“It was a situation where people were taken off guard,” Hanson continued of the initial gulf between the projected and final costs of the stadium. “People thought we could do more for less. Cooler heads prevailed and the sides came together to find a way to make this work and now this is a reality. When you get to the situation they got to, it’s easy to just walk away. But neither party did, and I am proud of that. It speaks to commitment and the value being placed on athletics.”
Hanson added that the opportunity will present itself for the facility to not only be used by football, track and field and soccer as well as the school’s recreation department, but also the school’s field lacrosse club program and other community groups.
She also stressed the huge volume of work which lies ahead for all concerned as the road to a potential 2020 completion date begins in earnest over the coming months.
“Now we need to go back and look at the scope and the design,” Hanson said. “We need to get the builders and that takes time. But I would like to think that by this time next year, potentially, there will be a shovel in the ground.”
SFU head football coach Kelly Bates fittingly placed Tuesday’s news in historical context, referencing the school’s founding athletic director and charter head coach in his thoughts.
“It was always Lorne Davies’ dream that we would one day play all our games on campus,” said Bates of the late Clan sports guru whose name is affixed to the neighbouring Lorne Davies Sports Complex. “Today is an important first step in realizing his dreams. Our student-athletes look forward to the opportunity of playing with a true home-field advantage.”
The football team, however, won’t have to wait long to make Fox Field its permanent home.
Last season, the campus locale played host to one football game. Hanson said Tuesday that the upcoming 2017 campaign would feature every Clan home football game played on Terry Fox field.
“We think it’s important to have football played on our campus for all the right reasons,” she said. “But we will have a hiccup in that we may have to relocate our teams for one season (during the construction).”
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