DULUTH – First it was the mold in the ceiling. Then the air system needed to be replaced. Then the ice plant.
Two years and $3.6 million in upgrades later, the ice rink on the University of Minnesota Duluth campus is open again.
"It was a really big hole and we heard about it — from students, parents and alumni," said Mick McComber, director of UMD's recreational sports program. "Half of our student population haven't been here while there's ice."
The rink first closed in February 2018 after mold was discovered along the roof trusses during an annual inspection.
UMD's rink is home to club hockey, figure skating and open ice times, while the varsity hockey teams call off-campus Amsoil Arena home. In contrast, many other universities' ice rinks are shared among all teams and users.
"It really has taken on a recreational focus with the lack of seating, the Olympic size," McComber said. "We attract students that want to be active, and we've been fortunate to have a diversity of offerings — not just a gym and a weight room."
He said about 90% of students on campus take part in recreation and outdoor offerings. The rink had been a popular part of that since it first opened in 1988.
"It got a heck of a long life span with what we originally had until now," said John Kessler, senior project manager at UMD.
Kessler described how mold mitigation led to the discovery that the HVAC system needed to be replaced, which pushed back the completion date — and increased the cost. A conversion to an ammonia-based ice plant was already in the works, because the common refrigerant that was in use is now illegal to produce or import in the U.S.
"We didn't quite expect it all to happen at once," Kessler said.
The $3.6 million needed for the project was stitched together from student fees, state money and a loan from the university system, he said. Money for facilities is separate from the operating budget, which is being cut by 3% this year as UMD seeks to steady its finances after a decadelong budget imbalance.
The ice rink and its offseason indoor turf have been a draw for students in the past, but many current students need to get familiar with the rink. A student-hosted grand reopening on Thursday should help.
McComber said the broader hockey community missed the rink too.
"There are weekends where there's a shortage of ice in this town for some of those tournaments," he said. "We're getting the word out it's available for those out in the community."