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Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble?
by MARK ST.J. COUHIG
It’s back to the drawing board for Sequim High’s proposed tennis bubble.
Supporters say approving the placement of the air-supported dome on the Sequim High School campus would result in resurfaced school courts, allow year-round tennis for students and the community, and would cost the district nothing.
Members of the district’s facilities committee aren’t as enthusiastic, though they have yet to provide a final recommendation to the school board. Sequim District Superintendent Bill Bentley has asked board members to forward their specific questions and concerns to the committee, which is further examining the proposal by the Peninsula Tennis Club.
Allison Hastings, president of the club, has asked for a timely decision, noting that if the courts are to be resurfaced, the work must take place from mid-June through the end of July.
The bubble belongs to the club, which received it as a gift after it was dismantled from the George Washington University campus in Washington, D.C. To take ownership of the bubble, which cost $700,000 new, the club was required to pay only the cost of shipping it to western Washington.
Club members say they have since received a $150,000 anonymous donation to support tennis on the peninsula. Those funds, plus another $45,000 in pledges, would be used to recover the five courts at the high school and to build a sixth. The new court would be built adjacent to the three existing “upper” courts, with all four covered by the bubble.
The bubble has its own lighting system. No heat or air conditioning would be installed.
Hastings said an earlier plan to build two new courts, and to cover all five, has been revised, reducing the size of the bubble’s footprint.
Hastings said the district’s students would use the bubble for free and would have first priority when scheduling its use. It also would be available to other community members who could reserve a court online. The fees paid by community members using the bubble would provide the funding needed for its operations and maintenance.
Sequim High tennis coach Mark Textor is a proponent of the bubble, saying it will save the district money by cutting down on tournament travel and will allow the creation of community leagues and a year-round site for lessons.
Textor said the original plan, which called for a 120-foot by 299-foot bubble, was “too much” and would have cut into space now used for baseball and football practice.
By reducing the footprint to 120 feet by 222 feet, the bubble would be “very unintrusive,” he said.
In response to concerns the bubble might be vandalized, Textor proposed a simple solution: “If it can’t be repaired, (the tennis club) will take their bubble and go home.”
Don Thomas has worked with the tennis program and the Sequim Boys & Girls Club for the past three years, seeing it nearly double in size, with participants now numbering 86. He said the club’s winter camp would be more popular but due to facility constraints they are required to limit the number of participants to 20.
“A facility like this would allow us to work year-round,” he said. He also called the tennis program, “an all-around citizenship program for the kids.”
On the other hand
Bentley, who also serves on the district’s facilities committee, said he agrees that forming partnerships with community organizations is important. He also agreed the existing tennis courts need to be resurfaced and that the district lacks the funding to do so at this time.
But he said the facilities committee has certain issues that currently preclude a recommendation in favor of the agreement. First and foremost, he said, “This is a very large structure. It will dominate the landscape.”
Bentley notes the Sequim district is unique “in terms of property.” While other districts have several schools on several sites — each with its own minimum space — Sequim has all of its buildings except one on one site. That means the district must plan carefully the use of its limited space, he said.
He notes the new structure would be 40 feet tall, and “as big as a football field.”
That raises two questions, he said. “How does it fit on the property? How does it fit with the other buildings?”
Bentley said the facilities committee is engaged in the process of determining the best use of the available campus space. Putting a new facility of this size on the campus would reduce the possibilities, he said.
Bentley also said vandalism could be a problem. “Some folks think they should write on structures,” he said. “And what if it’s punctured?”
While complimenting the club for doing their financial homework, Bentley said the possibility remains that the facility eventually could cost the district money. “We don’t have enough to maintain our own facilities,” he said. “If it would cost any more, or if their budget is off ….”
How it works
Hastings said as long as there’s interest in Clallam County in finding a place for the bubble, the funding for resurfacing the school’s courts will remain tied to the bubble. “It’s kind of a package deal,” she said. Hastings said if the school rejects the bubble, she will take it to the City of Sequim. If they also reject the bubble, club members will offer it to facilities in Port Angeles.
Hastings said she anticipates whoever takes the bubble will use it for its working lifetime. “Our goal is that it should be used as long as it’s functioning as intended.”