Thomas: Tennis courts a community concern

“Well, all you have to do is hold some car washes and bake sales.”

“Well, all you have to do is hold some car washes and bake sales.”

This was a comment suggested by an individual at one of Sequim Mayor Candace Pratt’s recent morning coffee meetings. That was his recommendation for building tennis courts in Carrie Blake Park — an item that has been listed in the city’s general plans for decades.

Every five years it gets pushed back into the following year’s general plans. While the city continues to “save” money by not following through on building courts for public use, it wasted money on buying a cemented over corner lot (Sequim’s Centennial Place) just to tear down an old oil company sign.

Now you are getting a new city hall and you’re spending money hand over fist trying to zero out your budget before this fiscal year ends.

The Sequim High School tennis courts double as school use courts and as public courts. However, the school district pays for the maintenance and repairs to those courts; the city doesn’t pay a cent. And as long as the school district courts are open to the public, the city seems to feel that there is no need to construct public courts in Carrie Blake Park.

Well, things have drastically changed recently. The five SHS courts are now three. The lower two courts have been closed to all — students and the public — use due to their unsafe conditions. Now this community has access to only three tennis courts.

The requirement for repair and resurfacing of all five of the courts officially was made in 2010 — but in particular the lower two courts, which have severe cracks in the surface, were singularly evaluated as unplayable.

You might ask who uses the courts. Actually, quite a few people and organizations use those courts. Sequim High School uses them: the boys tennis team in the fall, the girls tennis team in the spring and PE classes at various times.

However, the public uses those courts even more than the school district. The Boys & Girls Clubs puts on a two-week, three-hours-per-day tennis camp each summer. Participant numbers average about 90 youths and more than 20 volunteers each year, on five courts!

The Peninsula Tennis Club schedules tournaments and other events on the courts. On Sunday afternoons, the courts are occupied by a community tennis group. Various professional coaches use the courts almost daily to conduct tennis lessons.

A group of senior citizens uses the courts almost every morning. And, other players and families from the community have only the SHS courts for their recreational use.

Just think: Many other school districts have closed their facilities to the general public. Thank goodness that hasn’t happened here … yet. Thank you, Sequim School District for letting us use your courts.

Missed opportunities

The city takes advantage of the good graces of the school district. All these years, the City of Sequim has let the school district meet the obligation it promised the citizenry through the city’s general plans. I would estimate that a set of four courts would cost about $250,000-$300,000 to construct (with lights).

The $225,000 spent on a worthless lot plus a strong possibility of an additional USTA grant of about $40,000 plus local donations could have added up to close to $300,000. And we would have had tennis courts at Carrie Blake Park.

How about just a small percentage to fix the old school district ones? In 2010, there was an estimate made that would have covered the repair and resurfacing of all five of the SHS tennis courts. The total cost would have been just less than $70,000. Of course, the two courts that now have been condemned (due to severe cracks) would have taken about 75-80 percent of the cost.

Now here’s the kicker (this is where the city folk and the school folk should listen up): Wouldn’t it be a revelation if both parties split the costs? After all, the school district uses the courts, but the public uses the courts even more than the school district. They are essentially public courts under school management.

What a great position for the city to be in! The city gains an asset without having to pay to build courts in Carrie Blake Park and the school district maintains and repairs the courts.

Such a deal. If the school district could work together — a concept that I proposed over a year ago in letters to both the mayor and the school superintendent — and split the costs, the city might be able to put off building tennis courts in Carrie Blake Park for another 10 years or so for a mere fraction of the cost of building new courts.

The question would still exist whether or not the school district could pick up the remaining half. I’ll bet a deal could be made.

Have repairs been attempted? They certainly have — by the school maintenance staff. But the repairs failed. The cracks are severe. The work needs to be done by tennis court specialists. Even senior citizens attempted to make repairs.

The school district can’t afford the cost of repairs and the city is in denial over having any fiduciary responsibility with it — even as the city keeps delaying the building of new city-owned courts.

The city really needs to get involved in this. The last thing that we would want is to have the school district-owned courts closed to the public.

Don Thomas, a Sequim-area resident, is a United States Professional Tennis Association professional and member of the U.S. Tennis Association.