UConn trustees have given the go-ahead to build a highly anticipated new ice hockey rink at the Storrs campus, opening in fall 2022.
The Board of Trustees voted unanimously on Wednesday to authorize University officials to sign contracts for design, architectural and construction activities for the 2,600-seat arena, which will be located adjacent to the current Freitas Ice Arena in the Athletics District on Jim Calhoun Way.
A groundbreaking for the new facility will be held on May 22.
UConn joined the Hockey East Association for men’s ice hockey starting in the 2014-15 season, committing to provide an on-campus facility with appropriate space and amenities. Fortuitously, the project’s approval comes as UConn men’s ice hockey has been thriving and recently had its best season since moving to Hockey East.
“I think this is going to be a real game-changer, so to speak, for UConn hockey,” UConn trustee Andy Bessette said Wednesday, noting he talked recently with Men’s Ice Hockey Coach Mike Cavanaugh and that he and the players are “very excited and appreciative” of the support.
The team recently finished a season in which it had its highest-ever showing in the conference; entered the Top 20 poll for the first time; and saw its first player named a Division I All-American in junior Jonny Evans. Two players also signed with NHL teams this spring: Yan Kuznetsov with the Calgary Flames, and Tomas Vomacka with the Nashville Predators.
The new arena will host all games of the UConn women’s ice hockey team – which has been a Hockey East member since the 2002-03 season – and will be home to the men’s team, which has played at the XL Center in Hartford.
“We’re excited for UConn and its hockey programs. This new facility will give them a state-of-the-art arena to practice and play in,” Hockey East Association Commissioner Steve Metcalf said Wednesday.
In the bowl, the seating will consist of 80% with seatbacks and 20% on benches. The team facilities will include full Division I training and support for the women’s and men’s teams; team lounges; dry locker area and locker rooms with video displays; locker rooms for the visiting teams; training space with a hydrotherapy area; strength and conditioning room; and other areas such as coaches’ offices, a press box, dining area, ice plant and spaces for support services.
The new facility will also have a large center-hung display scoreboard with perimeter ribbon boards and will be designed to create an outstanding experience for fans with state-of-the-art sound and lighting features.
Fans will also be able to access an ice-level lounge behind the home goaltender with café table seating and food and beverage service. A student-only standing room deck will also be situated behind the opposing goaltender.
“The new arena with its north-facing glass wall will be a beacon on game nights and serve as the capstone of the UConn Athletic District building program,” said project manager Michael Schrier, UConn director of design and STEM projects in the Office of University Planning, Design and Construction (UPDC).
The arena’s $70 million budget consists of $33 million from the sale of revenue bonds, repaid from non-state sources including revenues from the facility; $20 million in donations made specifically to support the new arena; and $17 million in University funds.
The $17 million in University funds will consist of $11.5 million that UConn received from selling the former West Hartford campus and the Nathan Hale Inn – proceeds that are required to go back into capital projects and cannot go to operating expenses – and $5.5 million in operating funds from non-state sources.
Scott Jordan, UConn’s executive vice president for administration and chief financial officer, said Wednesday that the original target for donations was about $9 million, but that the UConn Foundation has been working with enthusiastic supporters and they are confident that philanthropy will reach at least $20 million based on commitments already made and indications of more to come.
The final design will also include aspects to make the facility as efficient as possible in energy and water use, in keeping with the University’s commitment to make its capital projects as environmentally friendly as possible.
The new 97,300-square-foot facility will also meet all NCAA Division I ice hockey requirements and all Hockey East regulations, which the Freitas Ice Forum does not. With that in mind, Hockey East gave UConn some leeway when it allowed the University to join the conference for men’s hockey despite needing time to provide an appropriate facility.
The current Freitas arena will remain at its current site adjacent to the new rink. It will continue to be used for practices and other events, including UConn Recreation Club Sports’ ice hockey programs and some community uses.
David Benedict, UConn’s director of athletics, has said having on-campus games could also help build the student fan base.
“I would like to pass along my gratitude to University leadership for its continued commitment to athletics and for taking the final step in making this project a reality,” Benedict said Wednesday. “Our men’s and women’s ice hockey programs have been competing at a high level under challenging circumstances, and the future of both programs got a lot brighter today.”
UConn officials have said it is also committed to maintaining the parking capacity in the Athletics District area, recognizing that parking is tight in that area.
As a complementary project, UConn trustees on Wednesday also approved improvements and reconstruction of the 360-space “I Lot” near Freitas to replace its pavement, regrade the base, and update necessary features such as the curbing, lighting, signage, pavement striping and so forth.
The improvements would be completed during the same timeframe as the ice hockey arena’s construction, with both opening in fall 2022.