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Darex ice fans look at building full rink

ASHLAND ' Local hockey and ice skating enthusiasts have banded together under a dream: to replace the aging, seasonal Darex Family Ice Rink with a permanent, regulation-size rink that could offer tennis or roller skating in the summer.

The citizens group has its eye on Lithia Park or somewhere near downtown, but faces immediate challenges of cost and space, says leader Mark Moeglein, who presented the idea to the parks department last week. Moeglein expects a new rink to cost between &

36;1 million and &

36;3 million.

The group has just started looking at sites and funding sources. It is considering a range of options, including rehabilitating the Darex rink, building a year-round enclosed structure or erecting a cheaper, permanent structure with a roof but open sides, said Moeglein, a software engineer who grew up playing hockey in Alaska.

We're considering expanding (Darex) or building a new one, though we know it would be difficult to build a full-size rink, said Moeglein. Whatever we do, it would be in the spirit of Darex, park-like, fun and near downtown. Lithia Park is our hope, but we're also looking at other sites, including city parks land.

The project would be funded primarily by foundation grants and community donations, but public money would be welcomed, said Moeglein. No funding sources have been approached yet, he added.

— Parks and Recreation Director Don Robertson said he doubts a large recreational building could be constructed within the park.

It's a very historic and beautiful park and that would be very difficult, Robertson said.

A regulation hockey-sized rink with 300 seats, lockers and lobby would be about 45,000 square feet, which I believe exceeds the big-box standards and would require an easement, said Robertson. I think it would be an extremely difficult thing to pursue.

The National Recreational Parks Association, he said, recommends one rink for every 100,000 population and that it be within a maximum 30- to 60-minute commute. So, I think The RRRink (in Medford) fills that need, he said.

The demand for ice time is growing because of the increase in hockey teams, figure skating competitions and general recreation, said Marylill Elbe, a Medford skating coach and teacher who is also on the Ashland rink committee.

Darex is a wonderful community resource and it's great to skate outside, she said, but time has taken its toll on the equipment and a big rink could offer a lot more to all the different groups and teams, instead of just recreation.

A city center location is the first choice, noted Elbe, because it would bring more people into downtown and help keep tourism going all year.

Darex is erected each winter in a parking lot across from the Lithia Park playground, at the corner of Winburn Way and Nutley Street. It drew 12,300 skaters November through February this season.

While not structurally failing, Darex is more and more of a challenge to set up and repair each year, said Robertson. It's wearing out. UV (ultraviolet sunlight) breaks down the plastic (mats and roof), so does rolling it up and unrolling it each season. The (refrigeration) pipes are plastic and they break down also.

Bow Seltzer, a Realtor who initiated the successful fundraising campaign that established the Darex rink in 1996, said he's conflicted about the idea of a new, permanent structure.

If (Moeglein's) dream doesn't come to fruition, and frankly I think it's a tough road to navigate, my quandary is if it doesn't happen, we certainly do have an issue with the Darex ice rink to get the aging equipment replaced or repaired, he said.

John Rotar of Eagle Point, citizens group member who worked on the design of The RRRink, said a possible spot for a new structure could be near the airport, where building size, parking and other urban considerations wouldn't pose such a problem.

High school hockey has really taken off, Rotar said, and there is no doubt the rink is doable, if there's enough interest.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.