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A new ice rink sits on the Oval on Jan. 8, 2021. Facilities services employees installed the rink to help prepare for a "Winter Welcome" to kick off spring semester. Once it freezes over, students can use the rink seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Once the weather cools down students will be able to ice skate on the Oval just as University of Montana alumni once did, after UM installed an ice rink on campus for the first time since the middle of the 20th century. 

Facilities Services employees installed the 60-by-85 foot portable rink on Friday, which is part of a larger effort by the University to increase student engagement this semester.

“There’s still that need to engage students,” Adrianne Smith, director of the University Center and James Todd Center, said. “Part of the college experience is to have that engagement outside of the classroom, but how do you do that when we’re not allowed to?” 

Smith said the UC used programming funds and sponsor help to purchase the ice rink, which can be used each winter. 

She said the hope was for the rink to open Monday as the semester began, but unusually mild winter temperatures have prevented the rink from completely freezing over. The rink will be fenced in until it freezes over and is ready for use. 

Vice Provost for Student Success Sarah Swager said the rink takes up a quadrant of the Oval and has fire pits around it where small groups of two or three students can gather. 

Smith said the eight propane-fueled fire pits are numbered and on a schedule of which ones are used. She added the rink will be open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., seven days a week with floodlights and hanging market lights for skating at night. 

This is not the first time an ice rink has been installed at the University. Hannah Soukup, the oral history curator of the University of Montana’s Archives and Special Collections, has read older articles of the Montana Kaimin from the 1950s that discuss an ice rink located where the Grizzly Pool sits today. 

The rink closed in the late 1950s or early 1960s because it didn’t get enough student use. A student-led push in the 1960s to reopen the rink failed. 

Soukup said ice skating rinks were first mentioned in the Kaimin in 1900, when students created makeshift rinks.

“We’ve lost a lot of that, a lot of these things students used to do on campus when it was smaller and there were fewer of them,” Soukup said. 

Soukup became familiar with the history of ice skating on campus through her work with the archives. 

 Smith, the UC director, said she’s had people reach out to her who skated on the Oval as kids. She said these memories are important because they connect UM and the larger community.  

Use of the rink will initially be limited to the UM community, but will soon be available to the entire Missoula community. Smith said she hopes the rink helps strengthen the connection between the University and Missoula. 

“Creating those memories are really important for people to have a connection to the University, whether you’re part of the community or you’re a student,” Smith said. 

Once the ice skating rink opens rules will be posted around the rink. One of the rules is that ice skates are required to get on the ice. 

Smith said the UC was planning to provide skates for students who didn’t have any, but due to the limited number of skates the UC can get from the local hockey and lacrosse store, they likely won’t have skates available for students until next season. 

The rink also has rules to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. These rules limit the rink capacity to 25 people and require skaters to fill out an online form accepting the “risks and responsibilities” before skating to help with potential contact tracing. The online form is accessible via a QR code on the rules poster. 

Anyone can reserve a spot on the new Griz Hub website. Student groups can reserve spots by contacting ASUM Business Manager Ethan Hanley, and other non-student groups can reserve a spot by contacting Smith. 

Anyone who has COVID-19 symptoms is not allowed on the ice, but there is no written rule requiring students to wear a mask. Smith said skaters will be asked to wear one, though. 

Swager said she hopes the rink provides a feeling of camaraderie and joy that can be hard for students to feel right now. 

“I hope it adds a sense of joy and sort of spirit of looking forward with optimism and students having a chance to spend time with each other in ways that are safe but also really fun,” Swager said.