Posted: February 16, 2017 at 5:36 pm

By Alec Gearty, Isaac Ferebee and Jerod Kenney

Morgantown Municipal Ice Arena has a hot-button issue on its hands.

For upwards of 40 years, the ice arena has been home to all aspects of sport including hockey and ice-skating. Since then, renovations to the arena haven’t been executed to promote a truly, functional facility.

From paint chipping off its walls to compacted workspaces to limited rink access, MCI is behind the times and due for a much needed renovation. The renovation planned is its largest proposal to date

The Morgantown Board of Parks and Recreation (BOPARC) is at the forefront for this change.

“The arena is approaching 40 years old,” said Executive Director Melissa Burch said. “With that type of wear and tear on any facility, you are looking at needed upgrades to just about every aspect of the operation.”

In July 2008, BOPARC produced a “master plan” which outlined the total cost of the updated renovations.

The plan totaled in nearly $1.1 million. It consists of a: new lobby, lockers, office/garage, equipment area and a new scoreboard. The proposed renovations to the ice rink would be the most expensive project in White Park.

This was a starting point but how would the city of Morgantown be able to afford the renovations for MCI?

In May 2011, BOPARC brought the plan to Monongalia County voters as part of the proposed Parks and Trails Levy. If passed, Morgantown would use the levy to fund the ice rink renovations.

Ultimately, the Parks and Trails Levy received 65 percent of the vote, approving the project and giving BOPARC a fixed amount of funding of $2.5 million. The funding doubles what the initial “master plan” had in mind.

According to Burch, it will be a “phased project.” The money will be released in increments through tax dollars at each stage of the process over the five-year period.

BOPARC is working alongside program management firm Brailsford & Dunlavey. The firm is no stranger to Morgantown as it is the one to have constructed the updated model of West Virginia University’s Mountainlair.

Brailsford & Dunlavey adapted a capital improvement plan” (CIP) for BOPARC to consider. While BOPARC is still focused on the main issues addressed in the master plan, the CIP’s preliminary report addresses other issues with ice arena.

“The CIP looked at a roof replacement,” Burch said. “As well as some specific equipment needs that at the time were not yet on the radar.”

The arena’s current state has the WVU hockey team up in arms and trying to find a solution to what they call an “outdated” arena.

“I think right now, our immediate issue has to do with the infrastructure,” said WVU head coach A.J. Sturges. “So having it set up so it runs and [is] more accommodating for people…there’s just some upgrades that it needs.”

Sturges, a graduate of Michigan State where he was a member of its hockey team in 2007-11, is rich with experience at the division-one level. Along with general manager Todd Gookin, he hopes that they are involved in the decision-making process.

“We are going to do our best to be a part of that conversation,” Sturges said. “[Gookin] worked with Morgantown Ice Hockey Association, so he’s making sure to stay in touch, but it’s the city’s rink. We want to make sure we are involved as much as we can.”

WVU is a part of the American Collegiate Hockey Association. As they aren’t under the NCAA or formally a part of WVU sports, funding from the university would be hard to come by; thus the reliance on the town to provide an adequate facility.

The capacity for Mountaineer hockey games can hold up to less than 500 people. The University of Pittsburgh, who plays in WVU’s division, plays at the Alpha Ice Complex (ACI). ACI has two rinks and can hold up to 1,200 people in its main rink, where WVU and Pittsburgh would play.

“The difference between us and some of these ACHA schools,” Sturges said. “Is that the facilities are updated, lighting is brighter and the viewpoints are better. Anything we can do to improve that would go a long way.”

Minor problems with the arena have been nagging the team since the fall. With ice chunks not settling before games, unevenness in the corners of the rink and the tall beams in the stands, it’s all just added problems to the grocery list of problems.

By sharing ice time, WVU hockey typically found itself on the back burner. Morgantown Ice Arena tends to prioritize the use of the arena for the general public, leaving Sturges’ team with the leftover hours.

“We play at 9:30 very often,” Sturges said. “We started at 10:30 before. We don’t always get the prime ice slots. We’re often taking what’s left.”

It’s taken a toll on the players but with very limited options, Sturges has no choice.

“It’s a huge challenge,” Sturges said. “That’s the reality of it—we either skate then or shift to a 6 a.m. slot which is equally as challenging.”

On Jan. 26 in BOPARC’s monthly meeting that involved Brailsford & Dunlavey, it was announced proposed to use the levy to build a second ice rink. Not a whole separate building—one for hockey and one for public skating—but two to reduce demand.

After seeing its condition, Sturges wants his team’s needs to be considered in the entire process. That means a possible strength and conditioning area due to the space at the rink as well as upgrades to both locker rooms.

“I would love to be able to provide some insight,” Sturges said. “Because the city does run it, a lot of the decisions aren’t necessarily made from a hockey perspective. We’re still trying to figure out the best way to navigate our situation.”

Take a tour of the facilities and hear us talk to President of the Morgantown Ice Rink facilities Roger Moss.