Barwood Arena Set to Go Nonstop With New Turf Surface

  • David Dean gives the Wendell Barwood Arena ice a dry shave in White River Junction, Vt., on Nov. 29, 2010. (Valley News — Sarah Priestap) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Thursday, January 04, 2018

White River Junction — Wendell A. Barwood Arena is set to become the Upper Valley’s latest year-round sports facility once a newly acquired artificial turf surface tops the facility’s ice hockey rink beginning in March.

The planned transformation was confirmed by Hartford High athletic director Jeff Moreno and Hartford Parks and Recreation director Scott Hausler, who have been working closely over the last few weeks to finalize financial and logistical details. The converted indoor sports facility is scheduled to operate in March, operating through October before it is switched back to an ice rink for the winter season.

“It’s such an exciting thing,” Moreno said on Wednesday.

WABA, the home of Hartford High boys and girls varsity hockey as well as youth hockey, curling and recreational skating during the winter months, has been vacant during the summer for years, other than the occasional indoor lacrosse practice in early spring and youth baseball and softball camps, all on a concrete floor.

The facility received a $2.5 million renovation in 2013 and, as of late last year, was in need of a $500,000 overhaul to the refrigeration system.

Hausler, as part of his budget request in October, included $150,000 toward purchasing a new artificial surface that would allow WABA to be used during the summer months.

The hefty price tag was avoided last month when Hanover resident Ken Weinbel, a former Dartmouth College track and field coach and founder of the turf company Weinbel Sports Corp., offered to supply the facility with an older AstroTurf surface formerly used at Leverone Field House from 2001-13 before it was replaced in the summer of 2013.

Weinbel, who had kept the old turf in a storage facility in Claremont since 2013, accepted a $10,000 payment for it on Jan. 1. Weinbel said the turf was sold new in 2001 for $160,000. 

“That got the ball rolling,” Moreno said.

The Hartford Booster Club offered a down payment of $5,000, and Weinbel suggested a payment plan for the rest of the year, according to Moreno, who added that some of his teams have offered to use some of their own budgets to contribute, if necessary.

While the turf isn’t a long-term solution — both Moreno and Hausler estimated it would last approximately 5-10 years — its presence gives Hartford High and the town’s recreation department a chance immediately generate revenue.

“I think we can recoup most of the cost of this relatively quickly,” Moreno said. “We could have soccer leagues, field hockey leagues, lacrosse leagues that could run from March to October, in addition to the high school use. … I think, in time, in year two, three or four, I think this’ll be such a hit that we can build it into our budgets and our systems. Once we get going in there, we’re not going to want to stop.”

Moreno added that he plans on the school’s football, soccer, baseball, softball, lacrosse, field hockey and track teams utilizing the new indoor space to prepare for playoff games on turf and indoor practices during rainy days in the fall or spring. Hausler said the facility will be used to house indoor sports programs throughout the summer and serve as an alternate facility during rainy weather.

Grantham Indoor, one of the Upper Valley’s only public indoor sports facilities, announced it would be closing its doors on Jan. 30. Robert MacNeil, who owned and operated Grantham Indoor for 19 years, said in early December that the facility’s busiest time was over 30 weeks during the winter months.

E.J. Bishop, executive director of Union Arena in Woodstock, echoed a similar sentiment: “In late March, early April, (turf) is a great use for the space,” he said. “But once you get into the warmer months, it’s tough to fill the space with sports. Hartford may have a better chance there, being close to a larger population in New Hampshire.”

Union Arena is a year-round facility as well, using a durable plastic material called SportCourt instead of artificial turf for indoor sporting events.

Bishop said UA also relies on trade shows and other non-sporting events that use the facility outside of the peak winter season. The Barn at Kimball Union Academy is also a year-round indoor turf facility. Lightning Soccer Club is its primary tenant.

Competing with outdoor programs and facilities during the summer may water down the demand for WABA as a host for indoor sports leagues, but Hausler said it’s an option he’s keeping on the table.

“In the summer, most people want to be outdoors,” Hausler said. “We’ll have to see how well it’s utilized.”

Josh Weinreb can be reached at jweinreb@vnews.com or 603-727- 3306.