MANKATO — Mike Hastings says the upgrades to the hockey side of the Verizon Wireless Center cannot be treated like a short-term fix but are a long-term need for the Minnesota State hockey programs, and he has concerns about cuts to the project that have taken place due to a trimmed budget.
“It’s not a Band-Aid,” said Hastings, MSU’s men’s hockey coach. “It’s the future.”
Construction on the $4.7 million improvements to make the downtown arena the permanent, everyday home for MSU men’s and women’s hockey (part of the $30.9 million overall civic center project) is set to begin after the Mavericks’ home schedule concludes in March.
The concern by Hastings and women’s coach Eric Means is that, once completed, the final project won’t meet their overall needs, especially when compared to what their closest competition has.
“I was told from Day 1, that the (state) bonding money was going to take care of our facility issues,” said Hastings, who has been the Mavericks' coach since April, 2012.
However, during Monday night’s Mankato City Council meeting, City Manager Pat Hentges reported on the project, and said that cuts may force Minnesota State to pay for some of the furnishings it’s requested in the project.
“It will accommodate all of the things MSU wanted in terms of the overall building,” Hentges said.
The project includes new dressing and team rooms, training and conditioning areas and offices. However, items such as therapy whirlpools, steam rooms, a reception area and displays might have to be provided by the university, Hentges said, reporting those costs at around $444,000.
Hastings said several of those items are vital to the program. The whirlpools, for instance, are standard in other venues and necessary for athletes’ rehabilitation from injuries.
“I’ve got my concerns,” Hastings said. “I’m looking at trying to get what we need, and there’s a difference between what we want and what we need.”
Hastings compares the Mankato project to what other hockey programs in Minnesota State’s “competitive footprint” have constructed in recent years and have planned for the near future. The costs pale by comparison.
Minnesota Duluth and Bemidji State are playing in 4-year-old city arenas constructed for around $80 million and $75 million, respectively. Nebraska Omaha will open an $82 million arena on campus next season, and St. Cloud State is in the final stages of a $30 million renovation and expansion to its on-campus arena.
And even the so-called best hockey buildings in the country, North Dakota’s Ralph Engelstad Arena and Minnesota’s Mariucci Arena, are undergoing multi-million-dollar renovations to their dressing rooms and other team facilities.
“It was my understanding that the project would provide amenities that fall in line with other programs within our geographic footprint,” he said. “Just compare amenities. At its present state, I’m concerned.”