Saint Thomas Academy and the University of St. Thomas will hold a groundbreaking ceremony for the new Saint Thomas Ice Arena today (May 15) on the academy’s campus in Mendota Heights.

The 1:30 p.m. ceremony will be open to the public and will be held on the north side of Mendota Heights Road near Lake Drive, across the road from the arena site. Plenty of street parking will be available.

“This is a long-awaited addition for Saint Thomas Academy, the University of St. Thomas and local youth hockey programs,” said Frank Lang, a Saint Thomas Academy board member and hockey arena chairperson. “This is great news for all hockey players and hockey fans in the community.”

The $4 million, 1,000-seat facility will serve as the practice and home ice for the Saint Thomas Academy boys’ hockey program and the University of St. Thomas’ men’s and women’s hockey programs, and also will be used by Mendota Heights youth hockey teams. The facility will include separate locker rooms for all three university and academy teams plus a weight training area and shooting stations.

The university is contributing $250,000 to the project, signing a 20-year lease and raising funds to cover the commitment.

“We’re excited for the opportunity to have a first-class facility for our players, coaches and fans and to be able to house our men and women in the same venue,” said Steve Fritz, the university’s athletics director. “This is an excellent partnership that benefits both institutions.”

After more than two years of proposals and planning, the rink will be ready in time for both schools’ 2003-04 hockey seasons. The Saint Thomas Arena will become the only privately owned ice arena in the state to house collegiate, high school and youth hockey programs.

“Greg (Vannelli) and I are excited to start our academy coaching careers in a state-of-the-art facility,” said co-head hockey coach Tom Vannelli. “Players will immediately benefit from the ability to actually practice on their home ice with reasonable ice times.”

Saint Thomas Academy has played its games at an Inver Grove Heights arena for the past several years. The university women have played at Minneapolis Parade Ice Garden throughout their five-year varsity history and the men’s team has played at the State Fairgrounds Coliseum in Falcon Heights since 1977.

The academy was located on the university campus until 1965, when it moved to a new campus in Mendota Heights. Now in its 117th year, the academy enrolls 700 students in grades 7-12 and is the only Catholic, all-male, JROTC school in Minnesota.