The Cloquet City Council has approved $52,000 to purchase 5,000 pounds of refrigerant for the ice plant at the Pine Valley Arena after leaks in the system allowed the chemical to escape. A special meeting was held Tuesday, Oct. 8.

The expense became necessary when leaks were discovered in the tubing in the floor of the arena — also called "The Barn” — which allowed a loss of the refrigerant R-22.

The pipes below the arena floor are older and beginning to corrode, according to Jay Koning of Gartner Refrigeration. When testing the system for the upcoming hockey season, Cloquet Area Hockey Association (CAHA) found 45 leaks in the pipes. In the testing, the refrigerant was lost.

Koning estimates the system needs approximately 5,000 pounds of R-22 to recharge the system at $10.50 per pound.

Ward 1 Councilor Warren “Bun” Carlson said he had researched prices before the meeting and the CAHA price was better than what he found from a manufacturer.

Cloquet Public Works Director Caleb Peterson said the contracts the city has with CAHA, the Cloquet-Esko-Carlton hockey teams and the Minnesota Wilderness, The Barn and Northwoods Credit Union Arena generate about $230,000 a year in revenue. So far this year, the city has spent less than $130,000 operating the arena, leaving about $100,000 in the budget for the remainder of 2019.

“Short of this issue, the budget is looking pretty good,” Peterson said.

The city took over ownership of the two arenas in early 2019. A study done prior to the city taking ownership found up to $3 million in repairs, the bulk of which would go to a new refrigeration system for the arenas.

Interim City Administrator James Barclay said the city could lobby for legislation for a 0.5% sales tax to fund the upgrades as a “regionally significant project.” However, the repairs would be at least three years away because the Legislature would have to pass it and the city would then need to pass a referendum to purchase a bond to fund the project.