(Jan. 19, 2011: University Advancement): Construction is progressing well on what will be a spectacular new athletic facility for Ryerson students at Maple Leaf Gardens.

Two new floors in the Gardens that will make up most of the Ryerson University Sports and Recreation Centre are taking shape. The concrete floors are being poured concurrently, with the first Ryerson floor progressing just slightly ahead of the second as they begin to reach across the breadth of the historic building.

The unique project, which has captured the imagination of the city, is made possible in part by support from the federal government's Economic Action Plan. The government recently announced an extension for the deadline of completion of projects funded under the plan - from the end of March to the end of October 2011. Ryerson is applying for the extension for the Maple Leaf Gardens project. 

It is expected that Ryerson athletics and recreation will move in to the centre some time during the fall 2011 semester.

"It's a large and complicated project, and despite the obvious challenges, progress on construction has been very good. This will be a spectacular facility for Ryerson students and for the community," said Julia Hanigsberg, vice-president, administration and finance. "A big reason for our success has been our great working relationship with Loblaw, who have been wonderful partners with us in this transformative project."

Ryerson students have been at the forefront of making the new centre possible. In a spring 2009 referendum, students voted overwhelmingly to increase their athletic fees to support a new sports and recreation centre. The fees will provide $20 million for the new facility. In December 2009 the government of Canada announced that it was pledging $20 million to the project, and Loblaw and Ryerson announced that they would launch a joint fundraising effort for another $20 million, including a $5 million contribution from Loblaw.

Construction activity has continued non-stop, both inside and out. The massive scaffolding that enveloped the Gardens for several months has been removed, as work restoring and repairing exterior bricks has been essentially completed. Windows in the Gardens have been replaced with new ones that are in keeping with the building's heritage status. A good deal more natural light is making its way into the building than has been seen for many years.

The acoustic baffles from the domed ceiling - familiar to generations of Gardens visitors - have been removed, revealing the original steel structure that supports the dome, one of the largest in North America.

The Ryerson athletics centre will feature a multi-purpose court with seating for 1,000, a fitness centre, cafe and other facilities on the second floor. The third-floor, NHL-sized rink will be more than 15 metres above street level with seating for about 3,000. At the top of the seating area will be a concourse level with concessions, washrooms and service space. A temporary floor can be installed on the ice surface so it can be used for other events.

In all, the new facility will add about 220,000 square feet of additional sports and recreation space for Ryerson students. The space will supplement the university's current 20-year-old facility. The new centre is primarily for Ryerson students but will also be accessible to the community.

Loblaw is continuing work on the main floor of the Gardens, which will be home to a large grocery store. The site has been excavated below ground level for a parking garage for Loblaw.

Visitors to the Ryerson University Sports and Recreation Centre at Maple Leaf Gardens will enter from Carlton Street and take an escalator up to the facility. Ryerson and Loblaw will have separate entrances.