Latest News

From ice arenas to warming shelters: 2023 in Morgantown

MORGANTOWN — Putting together a year-end review summing up 2023 in the city of Morgantown wasn’t easy.  

A lot happened to be sure, and right up to the end. 

For example, the city announced in the first few days of 2023 that it would receive $6 million in federal earmarks to replace the Morgantown Fire Department’s  South High Street station, or Station 1, which was built in 1954.    

Three hundred fifty or so days later, on Dec. 27, the city announced it wants to move the station to a property at the corner of Don Knotts Boulevard and Prairie Avenue.    

Much of that story is yet to play out. 

Other notable headlines came in June, when the city announced rolled out its new nature-inspired logo with the tagline “The journey starts here,” and November, when the city’s Richwood redevelopment project cleared its first official hurdle before the Morgantown Planning Commission. 

But that too is just getting started. 

While there weren’t any stories that really dominated headlines in the city this year, there were a few that stood out. 

1 in 8 for 4 of 7 

In one respect, Morgantown’s 2023 municipal election was historic.  

Following a charter change passed by voters in 2021, the April 25 election marked the first time only a portion of council was on the ballot. 

Moving forward, councilors will be elected to four year terms with either three members (2nd, 4th and 6th wards) or four (1st, 3rd, 5th and 7th) going before the voters every two years. 

In most other respects, however, the election was a lot of the same. 

In terms of outcome, all three contested races were won by incumbents as Joe Abu-Ghannam, Danielle Trumble and Brian Butcher were returned to their 1st, 5th and 7th ward seats, respectively.  

The body picked up one newcomer in Louise “Weeze” Michael, who ran unopposed in the 3rd Ward. 

The election also highlighted the fact that the city voters remain largely apathetic when it comes to city elections.  

Even so, the city actually saw its best turnout since 2017.   

The 2023 election drew 1,697 voters to the polls. That’s up from 1,517 in 2021 and 1,642 in 2019.   

The bump in turnout coupled with the pruning of 5,759 registered voters from voter rolls since 2019 resulted in a turnout of 12.96% in an election that cost the city about $40,000 — roughly double that of the 2021 election — according to City Clerk Christine Wade.   

Wade explained much of that money went into a concerted effort by the city to get election information in front of voters. The city sent every voter registered in 2021 and 2023 a state-mandated letter explaining changes in polling locations. The city also used MUB invoices to mail out more than 11,000 election flyers on two occasions leading up to the start of early voting.   

In addition, the city pushed information through social media and increased the amount of election-oriented signage purchased, including a banner spanning High Street.   

Added to the city’s efforts were weeks of media coverage, online discussion, independently organized candidate forums and hundreds of campaign signs blanketing the city.   

The result?   

Seven of every eight registered voters in the city chose not to participate. 

“I don’t know why really,” Wade said in April when asked about the lack of participation. “The only thing I can do is keep trying to come up with better ways of getting the communication out.” 

An option seemingly supported by multiple councilors during campaign season is exploring a charter change moving the city’s election in line with the county primary, as both Star City and Westover have done. 

In July, Councilor Danielle Trumble requested council convene a charter review committee to explore that issue and others, but it hasn’t been taken up publicly.  

On ice 

On Dec. 27, 2017, BOPARC selected Mills Group to design improvements for the Morgantown Ice Arena. 

More than five years later, on Feb. 15, 2023, BOPARC pulled the plug and started over, rejecting the lone bid for what ended up being a $15 million project. 

Initially riled after BOPARC announced plans to cancel the 2023-‘24 ice season to better accommodate COVID-impacted lead times tied to the work, primary user groups like the Morgantown Hockey Association and WVU Hockey eventually stood in full opposition to the project during both BOPARC and Morgantown City Council meetings in early 2023. 

As a part of the pivotal February meeting, it was announced that BOPARC would instead move forward with a project focusing on community and recreation while Mylan Park would explore a project to satisfy the needs of competitive sports teams and leagues.  

The Board of Park and Recreation Commissioners voted earlier this month to purchase a chiller for $195,680 from Trane Manufacturing and a dehumidification unit from CDI Products for $198,950. 

As was the case this time last year, lead times for both will likely stretch into late 2024. 

While it’s known the Morgantown Ice Arena improvements will also include a new roof, the project focus beyond that is still being developed. 

Mylan Park Foundation President Ron Justice recently told The Dominion Post he’s hopeful there will be an update on a potential Mylan Park ice arena in early 2024. 

Gimme shelter 

While it wasn’t always in the spotlight, the story surrounding the community’s warming shelter ran throughout 2023 and culminated in exactly what community leaders spent the year saying they wanted to avoid — a last-minute scramble to pull something together. 

It ultimately took two private citizens organizing a shelter with help from a local church, and a near revolt from the surrounding neighborhood, to spur things into action. 

The warming shelter issue was in limbo since last winter’s shelter — which essentially used entrance and lobby space at Hazel’s House of Hope — closed its doors in March.  

By all accounts, there were problems, and at the time, representatives of Morgantown Community Resources indicated HHH would not be a good fit for that use moving forward.   

That’s pretty much where things sat until November. 

With winter on the way and no other options on the table, two individuals — Dani Ludwig and Jennifer Powell — stepped forward with a plan to supervise a shelter at Sabra United Methodist Church with Milan Puskar Health Right providing fiscal oversight.   

This idea touched off significant backlash in the Jerome Park neighborhood surrounding the church.   

About a week after a very vocal Jerome Park Neighborhood Association meeting, community leaders said the shelter would likely be heading back to HHH after all, this time utilizing the unused Hope Hill Sobering Center Space and operated by Bartlett House. 

While the additional shelter has been available since Dec. 7, Bartlett Housing Solutions Chief Executive Office Keri DeMasi said it had not been needed as of Dec. 29. 

Bartlett House operates a 28-bed, year-round triage shelter on the second floor of HHH and added 12 beds as its own in-house cold weather shelter beginning Nov. 17. 

It’s only after the 40 Bartlett House beds (triage and warming) are filled that Bartlett House will open up the 15 beds in the old sobering center space.   

The warming shelter is open any time, day or night, the temperature hits 39 degrees or lower.