Ashland's ice rink could be open as soon as Christmas if the weather cooperates with a few dry days.

Ashland's ice rink could be open as soon as Christmas if the weather cooperates with a few dry days.

The Parks and Recreation Department contracted with Copeland Construction to remove the old asphalt parking lot across from Lithia Park that doubled as the Darex Family Ice Rink and install a new system with the cooling element embedded in concrete. The new design will allow setup crews to form the ice directly on the parking lot rather than on above-ground cooling coils.

The new rink will cost about $175,000 in all, Parks and Recreation Director Don Robertson said. The aging system needed improvements to stay open, and the Parks Commission considered several options ranging from $50,000 replacement coils to a brand new full-size rink at $1 million.

The department had $94,000 set aside for improvements, and the Parks Commission decided to apply for a $400,000 grant for the embedded coils and additional amenities, including restrooms, a concession stand, warming hut and a partial cover.

The department did not receive the grant, but the commission decided to go ahead with the upgrade to underground coils and delay the other improvements.

"Because it's become an important piece of our community, the commission said 'Let's do what we have to do to get it open,'" Robertson said.

Construction has already begun on the parking lot but will require a window of dry weather to pour the concrete. The surface must then sit for 28 days before any ice can be formed on top.

"If the weather gets really cruddy on us, that will slow us down a little bit," Robertson said. "Over the next couple of weeks, we'll see a lot of action assuming the weather holds."

Once installed, the new system will be about 25 percent more efficient and can be set up in as little as three days instead of the month required in previous years, he said.

They will also save $10,000 per year on setup and teardown costs, Parks Superintendent Steve Gies said.

The rink will be 65 by 120 feet, the same size as the old rink and will have very similar hours, Robertson said.

During commission deliberations, several community groups advocated for a full-size rink for hockey and figure skating, and expanding the rink in the future will be challenging because it would require removing all the existing cement, he said.

Robertson said he hopes they meet the Christmas deadline because the season between Thanksgiving and New Year's is the busiest by far, when students are out of school and most out-of-town guests visit.

"The important thing is that the rink is coming back and it will be more efficient than ever before," he said.

Staff writer Julie French can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 227 or jfrench@dailytidings.com.