From COVID-19 photographs again to slapshots, Merlis Belsher Place transforms – Saskatoon

Work is underway to transform Merlis Belsher Place from a COVID-19 vaccination clinic back into the home barn of the University of Saskatchewan (USask) Huskies hockey.

The dual-rink facility was converted by the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) into the city’s potential field hospital from June 2020 till March 2021. Then, in early March, SHA announced the field hospital space became the first COVID-19 mass immunization clinic to be set up in Saskatoon.

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“The original intent of the set-up was as a field hospital … it was then used in that interim period to provide a mass immunization clinic. So it served, in essence, two purposes,” USask associate vice-president of services Wade Epp said.

“I view it as a success in the sense that we had a calling from a partner from the Ministry of Health or through the SHA and we were able to meet that.

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“And then certainly to see it transition into a mass immunization clinic showed another successful plan to help support the community.”

A question Epp gets asked a lot is about whether a single patient used the field hospital and the answer is – no.

“I’m glad nobody had to use it. I’m glad it was there and I think that sort of is the sense from the certainly from the community,” he said.

“At the same time, it was so exciting to drive by and see people lined up to get their vaccine and to know that there was a sense of pride certainly to see, not only Merlis Belsher name on the side but the university logo to show that we were helping meet a community need in that way.

“There was no associated cost that the university recovered from the use of that space.”

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At the end of July, Epp said the decision was made to decommission and return the space back into a sports facility.

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“There’s a construction team working on that recommissioning or decommissioning, however, you want to put it, that turnover back to its original state. So they’re working on that over what I believe is the next four weeks to have that facility back in its original — if not better — condition,” Epp said.

“Officially it would have started here this week. I know there was some activity outside of where the main hospital set-up was, where we were able to proceed earlier than that date but the main sort of thrust of it here started this week.”

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The facility is also normally home to the USask basketball and campus leagues as well as U18 AAA Saskatoon Contacts and Saskatoon Stars.

“It really is a place of gathering for the community and in other venues and, certainly, having Saskatoon minor hockey back and seeing parents help lug in those heavy hockey bags will be something to be seen and to be proud of,” Epp said.

“Merlis Belsher Place before the pandemic was a place that was for community gathering, whether that be … of the men’s hockey team and the playoffs that they were in and seeing a sold-out crowd, whether it was a women’s basketball team going all the way, those were right at the very end.

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“But to see the community come together is an important aspect and something that we’re certainly excited about seeing the Huskies back.”

The main rink at the facility has seating for about 2,400 fans when games resume.

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