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Ashland parks officials discuss replacement ice-rink possibilities

ASHLAND — Building a regulation-size, $1 million ice rink on Southern Oregon University land was one of the options bandied about during a parks commission meeting Monday to decide what to do about the ailing Darex Family Ice Rink in Lithia Park.

Another option was to expand the Darex rink to regulation size at a cost of $650,000.

Built in 1996, the rink was dealt a blow last winter when its canopy collapsed under a fallen oak tree and heavy snow. No one was hurt in the overnight accident. Parks workers already had been struggling with aging ice-making coils that have to be rolled out each year for the seasonal rink.

Options include replacing the coils for $50,000, embedding the coils in concrete and adding a rest room and skate shack for $300,000, enlarging the rink to regulation size for about $650,000, building a new rink on SOU land near ScienceWorks for more than $1 million or eliminating ice skating in Ashland.

Parks commissioners will make a decision about which option to pursue at a 7 p.m. meeting March 24 in the Ashland Civic Center Council Chambers, 1175 E. Main St. They must identify an option so that parks staff members can prepare an application for a state grant.

Parks Director Don Robertson said he talked to Craig Morris, SOU's interim vice president for finance and administration, on Monday and also received an e-mail from him.

In the e-mail, Morris said SOU would prefer that the ice rink not be on university land, but officials are willing to consider including a proposal for the rink when they undertake a six-month-long master planning process for the campus that begins in September.

SOU will not agree to the project unless there are adequate funds to build and maintain the rink. Also, the parks department or another credible organization such as the Ashland Family YMCA would have to assume responsibility for the long-term management, maintenance and operation of the rink, Morris said in the e-mail.

The parks department plans to apply for a state grant to help with ice rink costs.

But the lengthy timeline for SOU's campus master planning process would put Ashland at a serious disadvantage for a grant if the parks commission voted to pursue a rink on SOU land, Robertson said.

The state has only $5 million to distribute for park needs all across Oregon, so the grant selection process will be very competitive, Robertson said.

Mark Moeglein, president of the nonprofit group Ashland Ice and a supporter of a regulation-size rink, said SOU's requirements for a rink on campus land are reasonable and could be met. But he said momentum seems to be building for the option to enlarge the ice rink at the site next to Lithia Park.

Creating a rink that is 185 feet by 85 feet would mean area high school teams could play games there, he said.

Moeglein said Ashland Ice could support an expanded rink near the park and likely could win fundraising pledges of $100,000 for the effort.

The parks department has budgeted $50,000 for the ice rink and also received an insurance payment of $44,000 for the collapsed canopy. None of the cost estimates include replacing the canopy, which would add another $70,000, Robertson said.

The ice rink operated without a canopy this winter and brought in $45,607 — within the average of $40,000 to $50,000 for the season, Robertson said.

John Rotar, coach in chief for the Rogue Valley Youth Hockey Association that includes high school teams, said he would prefer to see a larger rink, but would like it to remain next to Lithia Park and close to Ashland's downtown.

"I think the community's going to support it staying in the park," he said.

Vickie Aldous is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. She can be reached at 482-3456 or valdous@dailytidings.com.