After 58 years at Bird Arena, the Ohio hockey team may be close to moving into a new home.
Ohio University’s 2016 Comprehensive Master Plan, which was approved by the Board of Trustees on March 11, recommended the replacement of Bird Arena and the Aquatic Center. The primary reason cited in the plan is the “long-term cost of addressing deferred maintenance” at the current facilities.
Bird Arena’s most prominent maintenance issue is insulation, which poses a problem every August when the Bobcats return to the rink to practice and hot temperatures outside impact the building’s ability to keep the ice surface sufficiently cold.
The official timeline for a new facility is within a window of 10 years, Greg Hollback, the coordinator of both Bird Arena and the Aquatic Center, said.
The proposed new facilities will have a base size of 95,000 gross square footage (45,000 GSF for the hockey arena) and will include a shared lobby and lockers, according to the master plan.
Cost, funding for the new facilities
The loose estimation for the new facilities is $40 million, according to the Vice President for Student Affairs Jason Pina, but there have been no studies to establish a firm price.
OU’s Six Year Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) for fiscal years 2017-22 identifies a $500,000 expenditure in fiscal year 2017 to study the future of Bird Arena/Aquatic Center. The CIP notes that the money will come from the reserves/operating budget.
Pina said according to studies done so far to determine the cost of fully renovating the current Bird Arena/Aquatic Center, the estimation is “between 24 and 30-something million dollars.”
The study of the future of Bird Arena/Aquatic Center will provide a better understanding of the comparison between the cost of building new facilities versus renovating the current facilities.
Mark Ferguson, the executive director of Campus Recreation, said funding streams have not been identified for potentially funding the new facilities. There is no rigid plan to build the new arena because the Division of Student Affairs doesn’t have the money yet, Pina said.
“My hope is that in the next few years we’ll be able to do a study and get down to brass tax to really know what we’re in for and what it’s costing us to keep running,” Pina said.
Relocation and current space
The master plan recommends relocating Bird Arena/Aquatic Center adjacent to Ping Recreation Center, in the area where the tennis courts and indoor facility are located.
The new location for the facilities will centralize the hub for recreation, offer a more efficient use of space and improve parking capacity and accessibility.
In their new place on campus, the hockey arena and Aquatic Center have the opportunity to be more efficiently combined, Ferguson said. He used the example of taking heat from the ice rink to heat the water in the pools.
The current space of the facilities — centrally located on campus near Baker Center — has potential to hold academic buildings in the future, Pina said.
As a space wedged between Baker Center and Grover Center, the site of the current facilities is attractive for housing academic buildings, though no plans have been made in support of that.
Offerings of the new arena
Without funding streams, a firm budget or a confirmed date to begin the build, there are a lot of unknowns for what the new hockey arena could be.
For example, there is no decision on naming the new arena. Studies will determine which amenities are most important, such as scoreboard, type of seating (i.e. bleachers versus individual seats) and ice surface dimensions.
Bird Arena’s ice surface is 190 feet by 85 feet, 10 feet shorter than the NHL and NCAA size.
Aside from Ohio hockey, Bird Arena hosts several events, including youth and adult hockey leagues, intramural broomball, synchronized skating and academic classes. Ferguson believes a new facility would be able to host more events than the current facility.
Hollback said his “wish list” for the new arena includes the ability to host programs such as Disney on Ice and exhibition games for the Columbus Blue Jackets. An NHL-sized ice surface would be necessary to host a Blue Jackets game.
Maintenance to the current arena, as well as ultimately the construction of the new arena, could benefit the university, the hockey team and the community as all three groups use the facility.
“We have the only indoor pool for miles around and the only ice arena,” Pina said. “So it’s not a situation where we can just close it down for a few years and save our money up.”
Although confirmation of a new arena and its surrounding details are still likely years away, the potential of advancing Ohio’s club hockey team to NCAA status is much more distant.
“We’re focused on the now,” Hollback said. “There are no plans, there are no machines turning to move the hockey team to the athletic department.”