Rink options put forth

A proposal to build a regulation-size ice rink on Southern Oregon University land faces significant hurdles &

the biggest being the $1 million-plus price tag.

A more modest $650,000 proposal to expand the wintertime ice rink that operates in a parking lot across from Lithia Park to full size faces its own obstacles, but could be more feasible.

The Ashland Parks and Recreation Commission heard from hockey and ice-skating enthusiasts Monday night as it gathered public input and information about a range of possible scenarios.

Built in 1996, the Darex Family Ice 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 restroom 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 Director Don Robertson said he talked to SOU Interim Vice President for Finance and Administration Craig Morris 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 SOU 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 like 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.

State officials will look for a project that is ready to go during the next fiscal year, which starts in July, and that could not happen with an SOU rink site, he 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 at this time, which would add on another $70,000, Robertson said.

A state grant could provide matching funds.

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, was one of the people who supported the creation of the Darex Family Ice Rink more than a decade ago. He 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.

Rogue Valley Youth Hockey Association representatives said they spend money for ice rink time in Medford, Klamath Falls and Eugene &

money that could be spent in Ashland. The larger rink could be used for practices as well as for games and tournaments that would attract out-of-town visitors.

Moeglein said the parking lot location has limited seating, which would make it harder for high school hockey games to be held there. Also, the SOU site is closer to most schools.

Whichever option the parks commission decides to pursue, adult ice skater Molly MacGowan echoed the sentiments of many who skate for exercise and compete in figure skating and hockey. She asked commissioners to eliminate the last option of getting rid of the ice rink in Ashland.

"I hope you throw out option number five as fast as you can do it," she said.

Parks commissioners will make a decision about which option to pursue at a 7 p.m. meeting on Monday, 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.

Staff writer can be reached at 479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com. To post a comment, see .

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