SEATTLE -- NHL Seattle has begun the construction phase of its arena project.
Seattle, which was awarded an expansion team in December 2018, is scheduled to begin play in the 2021-22 season. Ken Johnsen, a construction executive for Oak View Group, which is overseeing the work, said during a media tour Tuesday that the New Arena at Seattle Center is on schedule to open sometime in the summer of 2021.
Oak View Group spent most of last year tearing down the previous arena (Key Arena), removing the structure of the building. Crews are now building a brand-new arena.
"We are drilling permanent foundations as we speak," Johnsen said. "We will be done with the excavation, all of that 600,000 cubic yards, we'll be done with that by end of February."
Workers on site dug 50 feet down from the previous floor, which has expanded the size of the arena from 400,000 square feet to 800,000 square feet. Three-quarters of the dirt has already been removed by 60 trucks, which are clearing the site.
The $930 million project, which was privately funded, is unique in that the roof of the old building had to be preserved after being designated as a historical landmark. That roof, which weighs 44 million pounds, was part of the original structure built in 1962 for the World's Fair and is located not far from the Space Needle.
"This is one of a kind," Johnsen said. "This size of roof, this weight of a roof being held in place while you're building this big of a building underneath it. I think it means for everybody working on it, it's interesting, it's challenging and something they're going to remember for a long time."
The roof is being supported by 70 columns and a large kickstand beam while crews work underneath it.
Johnsen said that the roof has remained stable and will be reattached as construction progresses.
"The roof will be connected in pieces," he said. "As we go up in a different quadrant, we'll connect that column … we'll be doing that starting next month, February or March we'll connect our first column back up."
The new arena will include a 36,000 square-foot atrium. Space for the atrium on the south side of the building has been dug out but will not be built until later this year. NHL Seattle recently announced a partnership with Seattle-based Alaska Airlines that includes the naming rights to the atrium.
Johnsen said by the end of this year the foundation of the arena will be set and concrete will be poured, with steel and glass windows put in place. Next year, the focus will be on putting the finishing touches on the arena, including the electric wiring, seats and locker rooms.
When completed, the building not only will be used by the NHL team, but it will be a concert venue and the home of the Seattle Storm of the WNBA.
"We need to open this up," Johnsen said. "We need to open it up for hockey, we need to open it up for the Storm, we need to open it up for the concerts. So keeping that 'every day is important' mentality is key. … The 220 workers who show up here every day work that way. The biggest challenge is recognizing that every day matters."