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New ice system coming to WesBanco Arena

WHEELING — Hopes for a spot in the Kelly Cup Finals slipped away from the Wheeling Nailers this week, but there will be at least one silver lining to the misfortune of falling out of the playoffs — the brand new permanent ice system will be coming to WesBanco Arena even sooner.

A project that has long been in the works will come to fruition this summer, and now that the Nailers no longer need the ice this season, installation of the new ice system can begin after graduation ceremonies and other events at the arena finish by the end of this month.

“It’s going to start June 1,” Wheeling City Manager Robert Herron said, noting that it was hoped that the playoff run would continue, and in that case, the ice installation would have begun later in the month on June 16. “After graduations and other events happen in the next few weeks, that part of the building will be closed. The whole thing will be torn out over the summer and will be ready for hockey season later this year. It’s a nice project.”

Wheeling City Council recently approved an ordinance authorizing the city manager to transfer funds in the amount of $415,000 from the Arena RCIP (Restricted Capital Improvement Program) Fund from the Project Account to supplement the $1 million already in place for the permanent ice system replacement project at WesBanco Arena.

“It’s an updated, NHL-level system,” Herron explained. “It’s just under a $1.7 million project. The city’s portion is through the Arena RCIP — the sales tax portion that goes to the arena for improvements. We’ve got $300,000 out of the Project Fund, and the arena has $1 million in its account for the project.”

The new ice system will replace a temporary, modular system that has been used over the past three hockey seasons. The modern, updated ice system will also replace the original system that was installed decades ago when the Friendly City became home to an East Coast Hockey League team.

“When the Nailers — or the Thunderbirds at the time — moved here from Winston-Salem (North Carolina), the city in, I believe 1992, installed a permanent ice system in WesBanco Arena,” Herron said. “That was like a $2 million investment if I recall.

“We got 26-27 years out of it.”

That original ice system in the concrete floor of the arena remained reliable until just before the beginning of the 2019 ECHL season, when a failure in the ice system prompted arena officials to find a quick fix. The Greater Wheeling Sports and Entertainment Authority, which oversees the arena, weighed options before moving forward with a modular ice system to serve at least as a temporary fix. The city at that time transferred $330,000 in Arena RCIP funds to fund the modular system installation.

The modular system has been used for the past three hockey seasons.

“The temporary system’s outdoor compressor will be replaced with the smaller, indoor system,” Herron said. “It’s just a bunch of white tubes — you can use it outdoors or whatever. It’s miles of white PVC tubes that roll up. The problem is, when you roll it up and unroll it all of the time, tubes can break.”

Herron noted that the original floor of WesBanco Arena – previously known as the Wheeling Civic Center — is lower than it appears to be when the ice is removed for other events. The original floor is underneath the current concrete floor that contains the failed ice system that will soon be torn out and replaced.

“The contractor is going to come in and they’re going to cut the floor out, and they’re going to go down to the original floor and put in a whole new piping system,” Herron explained. “They’re going to put concrete over miles and miles of pipe, and there is going to be a new compressor inside — a small compressor, because the original compressors back 30 years ago were huge.”

The refrigerant used to freeze the water for the ice rink is not freon, but instead is a glycol-based refrigerant, Herron noted. The new icing infrastructure will also have a deep dehumidification system.

Once the new ice system is installed, there will be less labor involved when it comes to removing the modular ice system for arena events that do not call for a rink – from concerts to rodeo events, monster truck events, wrestling and a myriad of other gatherings and functions.

“In the old system before it broke, you could have all kinds of events with monster trucks and everything else,” Herron said.

In addition to Nailer’s games, the ice at WesBanco Arena gets plenty of use for other events, from the Wheeling Symphony Orchestra’s annual holiday Symphony on Ice to use by high school and amateur hockey teams and other skating events.

Denny Magruder, executive director of WesBanco Arena, said the ice is a very important component to the overall annual programming at the facility.

“WesBanco Arena’s primary tenant, the Wheeling Nailers, have been playing hockey on a temporary ice system for a while,” Magruder said. “The installation of new ice will provide high quality, professional ice, and it will allow easy conversion for other events.”

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