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Ashland ice rink could shutter

ASHLAND — The city's ice rink could soon face a meltdown.

City officials say the aging downtown rink, which attracted about 1,000 skaters over the Thanksgiving holiday, might not last much longer than this winter.

Don Robertson, Ashland's parks and recreation director, said opening the rink for business on Nov. 17 was a major accomplishment after an oak tree collapsed under the weight of heavy snow in February and crushed the roof canopy.

"Every year we have a hard time getting the rink up and running because of the age of the facility," Robertson said. "But this year was extremely challenging because the tree damaged the tubes and coils. We had to rebuild one of the mats that are above the chiller coils. The mat is four feet long and runs the entire length of the rink. It's also very hard on the rink to unroll and then roll up the mats every season. Plus, the coils are plastic tubes that constantly crack. I hate to say it; but this might be the last year we'll be able to open the rink."

Robertson will submit a grant proposal this winter for the city to purchase a new canopy and permanently embedded mats and coils, which he says would cost approximately $300,000. The grant would cover only about half of those costs. He said his department received $44,000 in insurance when the tree crushed the roof, and he has received a $5,000 commitment for the rink from the Ashland Parks Foundation, along with a $50,000 commitment from the parks department.

"We'll be looking to the community for additional funding," he said. "We're real excited to have the rink up and running this year and we're keeping our fingers crossed. It's a great resource and amenity for the town and I'd hate to lose it."

Pat Fisher, an evening and weekend manager who has worked at the rink for the past three years, said he thinks people would be very upset if the rink didn't open next season.

"This is a safe event for the community," he said. "It gives the kids something to do at night. When there isn't a fun place for kids to go, that's when you tend to see bathrooms getting tagged and stuff like that."

Bow Seltzer of Ashland initiated the successful fundraising campaign that brought in the Darex rink in 1996. "I was able to raise $250,000 that first year because so many people supported it. After 11 years, it's kind of a fixture now. I'd hate to see it go. I'm sure the community will get behind this to make sure we don't lose the rink."

Seltzer said he'd like to see an Ashland rink with a more permanent structure like the Bill Collier Community Ice Arena in Klamath Falls.

"It's a multi-use, outdoor facility. I think something like that would better serve the various Ashland groups who use the facility now," he said.

The Ashland High School hockey team would be directly affected by the rink's closure. Chris Bonelli, who has coached the team for the past three years, said it would be a huge loss for the community as well as his team if the rink didn't reopen next year.

The rink hasn't operated without a roof since its first year of operation in 1996. Robertson said not having the roof will probably do more harm than good. "If it's a warm night with lots of stars, skating will be beautiful. If it's cold and rainy, I don't think too many people will attend."

Michele Mihalovich can be reached at 482-3456 Ext. 226 or mmihalovich@dailytidings.com.