OPINION: The RMU Island Sports Center doesn’t need any upgrades

The+hockey+team+listens+to+the+RMU+band+play+the+alma+mater+after+their+game.

Photo by David Auth

The hockey team listens to the RMU band play the alma mater after their game.

By Owen Krepps, Copy Editor / Podcast GM

As a student who lives off-campus at RMU, I drive to my classes every day. One thing that has been relevant in my commute recently has been the formation of a single lane outside of the UMPC Events Center. For the past week or so, there has been a cherry-picker on the side of Campus Drive with men cleaning the windows of the arena, all in preparation for the basketball season which is approaching fast.

Meanwhile, the RMU Island Sports Center has sat on Neville Island for the past 23 years. It was purchased by RMU in 2004. Unlike the Peoples’ Court in the UPMC Events Center, Clearview Arena will have two major vacancies this season as RMU has cut both of the Division I hockey programs that called the RMU Island Sports Center home.

Financials have played the biggest part in this cancellation as RMU President Dr. Chris Howard has said the Island Sports Center requires major renovations.

“Ice hockey has been our most expensive Division I sport due in part to the limited ticket sales and limited donations as well as having no access to things like guarantee game opportunities, conference revenue, or television contract payouts, like some other sports. We considered many options for sustaining ice hockey in the long term and it would require approximately $5-30 million dollars in facility upgrades.” Howard said back in June.

The key phrasing from Howard here is that this $5- 30 million dollars estimate he has is for facility upgrades only. This cost is separate from the price of the return of the teams in general, rather this $5-30 million is what the RMU Island Sports Center needs to do to upgrade itself for RMU hockey in the future.

What exactly are these upgrades that the arena needs to make? Just doing some simple math these numbers seem to be very drastic. A new chiller plant costs an average of $25,000- $150,000, new Zambonis start at around $10,000, and expanding the bleachers is an impossibility as a sewage line runs under the parking lot behind the benches.

“I really don’t see how this rink is not suitable and where [Howard] is coming from. We just got a new chiller plant three years ago, new ammonia tanks, and we redid the locker rooms 2-3 years ago as well. There have been talks about extending the bleachers but for what this school is this rink is completely fine. It’s definitely not NOT playable.” an employee of the RMU Island Sports Center said.

Perhaps the only major thing that the Island Sports Center needs to improve on is something that cannot be adjusted; the location. A roughly six-mile drive separates the Island Sports Center from RMU’s campus. It would have been nice if they reserved some space in the UMPC Events Center.

“Would we want an on-campus arena? Absolutely. Would we want a state-of-the-art facility? Absolutely, but [The RMU Island Sports Center] was home and it was the home that you grow to love and it is the home that we have known.” RMU men’s and women’s hockey head coach Derek Schooley remarked about the arena.

Schooley has also confirmed that given a potential reinstatement for 2022-23, the teams will play at the Island Sports Center. This comes amidst some rumors of the Pittsburgh Penguins stepping in and giving the University access to the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex in Cranberry, PA.

So what is the full story here? What is wrong with the RMU Island Sports Center and what is so wrong with it that it needs these sudden and drastic upgrades?

It was reported by DK Pittsburgh Sports this past summer that RMU Board of Trustees Member and CEO of Peoples Natural Gas, Morgan O’Brien decided to cut RMU hockey almost entirely on his own. No vote was held in the decision-making process to cut the teams as well. This, in turn, led Pittsburgh Steelers General Manager and RMU alumni, Kevin Colbert, to leave the Board of Trustees.

What is the name of the UMPC Events Center’s main court again? 

Another thing that we cannot forget about is Blackbear Sports CEO Murry Gunty’s proposal to purchase the Island Sports Center from RMU and renovate the building himself. After weeks of fighting and the University playing hard to get, Gunty was inevitably shut down in his efforts.

So, it seems that this $5-30 million dollar range is just another number that Chris Howard and company have thrown at the wall as an obstacle for the #SaveRMUHockey movement to overcome.

Continue to donate and check out the Pittsburgh College Hockey Foundation for more information on pledges, donations, and season tickets.

What would normally be the start of RMU hockey’s season is this weekend as women’s hockey play in College Hockey America (CHA) starts Saturday.

The Island Sports Center is not going anywhere, it will remain a community rink until RMU makes its comeback next season. There will just have to be some work done to make sure that that can happen.