Just a couple days after the University of Minnesota Duluth finished piecing together the financing to replace the campus ice rink's ice-making system in 2018, mold was found in the rink's air system.
Following a two-year closure, the rink reopened in mid-January. Mick McComber, the director of UMD's recreational sports outdoor program, said the rink's reopening has made the campus whole again.
"We want (students) to be active and we want them to be well," McComber said. "And so keeping them moving and offering those kind of opportunities is really important because it does help them succeed academically and helps them sleep better and helps them focus better."
Not all students, he said, want to get on a rock climbing wall or lift weights.
The recreational rink is used for open skate and hockey, club hockey teams, UMD figure skating club and broomball.
First-year student Tilia Tait, who's been figure skating during open skate every Thursday, said they've been waiting for the rink to open since the fall semester.
"I saw something about (the reopening)," Tait said. "I think it was an Instagram video of somebody skating saying they were going to have it open. I told my one friend, 'We're going.'"
While the rink was closed, the clubs would practice at Fryberger, Duluth Heritage Sports and Mars Lakeview arenas, costing UMD about $30,000 per year in ice time, McComber said.
"It was not cheap. It wasn't budgeting that we had planned for," McComber said. "We didn't think it was fair for them to just have to dissolve."
In fall 2017, UMD began planning to phase out the greenhouse gas called R-22 that was used for rink refrigeration. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency set 2020 as the date that the gas would be banned due to harmful effects on the ozone layer.
The ice plant was replaced with a new ammonia refrigerant system following the air system replacement.
The $3.6 million project was primarily paid for using student fees and a loan from the University of Minnesota System. McComber said $2.4 million of the total price tag came from student fees wrapped into tuition costs, calling the project a student-led effort.
Students rallied around finding a way to keep an ice rink at UMD despite the high costs of replacing the air system, McComber said. The mold discovery ultimately tripled the cost of the original project.
In 2019, the UMD student service fee committee agreed to provide $225,000 annually for 15 years to UMD's recreational sports outdoor program in order to pay off the loan from the university system.
"That's an indication of the importance that students place on these opportunities," McComber said. "They very easily could have said no."
Second-year medical student Fred Blaisdell was eager to hit the ice Thursday for the first time since he started attending UMD. When he had a rare free moment Thursday, he decided he wanted to spend it skating.
"I saw them putting down the ice a few weeks before it opened and I got really excited," Blaisdell said. "This is my second year in Duluth and I knew they had the rink in the school, but it wasn't open last year."
The public can attend all open skates, which are held from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday and Fridays from 6-8 p.m. Open hockey is 8:15-10 p.m. Fridays.