The University of Manitoba rolled out the heavyweights for Thursday's groundbreaking ceremony for the $46-million Active Living Centre.
Instead of shovels, officials and dignitaries manned jackhammers to officially start construction of the 100,000-square-foot eco-friendly project in the parking lot just south of the Frank Kennedy Centre.
Among them was one of the school's most famous alumni, Chicago Bears defensive end Israel Idonije, who spent time in his U of M days working out in the school's infamous "gritty grotto" on the lower level of the current recreation centre.
"The opportunities that came to me through the university here, through these facilities, changed my life. This centre will do the same, not just for athletes, but for members of the community," Idonije said Thursday.
The four-storey, open-concept, glass-exterior design will encompass a new high-performance training facility for elite athletes, a state-of-the-art indoor 200-metre running track, a 12-metre climbing wall, an Applied Research Centre, a workout, strength and conditioning facility and a gathering area for students.
Modern resources make a world of difference, Idonije said.
"It's no secret that the better the resources you have... that builds a better program because it builds better athletes," Idonije said.
"Same as the stadium... I've seen stadiums all over the world, and the access they're going to have when this is all done, it's going to take the university to another level. It makes me pretty excited for (football) coach (Brian) Dobie and the whole university."
The centre is funded by three levels of government, including $20 million from Ottawa, Minister of State (Transport) and Charleswood-St. James MP Steven Fletcher said Thursday. There is $5 million from the province through the Provincial-Territorial Base Fund and another $2.5 million from the City of Winnipeg that will come from its sale of the Polo Park stadium site.
"When we do projects like this, we all win," Manitoba Premier Greg Sellinger said.
It is expected the new centre, which will be connected to the university's tunnel system, will be completed in 2015.
Proud that the new Active Living Centre will be a hub for both the university and community, University of Manitoba president and vice-chancellor Dr. David Barnard said the project's genesis is in lockstep with the construction of the new Investors Group Field stadium across the street.
"It was part of the original idea of the university putting land into the stadium project that there would be some reciprocal benefit to the university, which was some contribution by various levels of government to the project here to rejuvenate our recreational facilities, which haven't been updated for a long time," he said.
Barnard said David Asper was due recognition for energizing the idea.
"In the very beginning, David Asper was involved and was very instrumental in pushing the entire agenda forward," Barnard said.