A senior Saanich Peninsula lacrosse official says funding for a new facility in Centennial Park promises to transform the sport.

“This new facility will completely change the sport of lacrosse on the Saanich Peninsula,” said Phil DiBattista, president of the Peninsula Warriors Lacrosse Association. “We are beyond ecstatic, we are beyond thrilled to get the grant money.”

His comments follow news that Central Saanich will receive just over $2 million in funding for the park’s new multi-purpose hall.

“We are extremely grateful for their support and for taking this opportunity,” DiBattista said.

According to the municipality, 40% of the money for the project will come from the federal government, 33% from the province and the rest from municipal reserves.

The new facility will be built on the site of the existing 40-year-old lacrosse box and the project will also include walkways from the nearby bowls facility and Wallace Drive.

The facility will house the Peninsula Warriors Lacrosse Association. Other sports and fitness programs will also be offered at the 17,000 square foot facility.

The roof and lighting will increase year-round, all-weather access to outdoor recreational activities for Central Saanich and the area.

Preliminary work on the project will begin this spring, with detailed design and costing in late 2022 and construction beginning in 2023.

The local announcement comes amid a period of growth for lacrosse, Canada’s national sport.

It’s thriving as a collegiate sport in the United States, and the National Lacrosse League recently expanded to Las Vegas – team owners include Canadian basketball icon Steve Nash and legend world hockey player Wayne Gretzky, who often credits lacrosse with his successful hockey career.

“I’m very, very excited for the growth of the sport,” DiBattista said.

This growth is also happening on the peninsula, already on the map as a supplier of young talent. Six of the conference’s under-16 graduating players were drafted by BC Jr. A Lacrosse League teams.

The impending arrival of a new facility not only underscores longstanding local support for lacrosse, but promises to resonate in other areas, including First Nations and non-First Nations relations. According to DiBattista, up to 36% of registered association members are of Aboriginal ancestry, and discussions with the Tsawout First Nation about launching an Aboriginal junior lacrosse league are already underway.

The lack of an indoor facility hampered preseason preparations between January and March, and DiBattista notes that association teams traveled to Langford to access indoor rinks for 10 or 12 years. Although this has partly discouraged parents from registering their children, the new facility will help the association attract new players, he added.

The covered installation will add flexibility for training sessions. Although the association has already purchased lighting to make better use of the existing facility, it’s not enough, DiBattista said. “Even that only allows us to work on one-third of the ground and if it rains it’s too dangerous for the athletes to play.”

While the loss of space at the Panorama Leisure Center has contributed to a significant drop in registrations in recent years, requests for registration have increased to the point that the association has had to turn away players for lack of facilities.

The covered facility will allow older groups to play outdoors, which will ultimately mean more teams and more games, DiBattista said.

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