GUSTINE - The deteriorating tennis courts in Schmidt Park have devolved into a condition which can no longer be tolerated, City Council members acknowledged at their July 16 meeting.
Spurred on by accounts of cracks in the courts large enough to swallow a tennis ball, council members directed staff to pursue funding to renovate the four courts - and add a fifth.
The city’s strategy will be to pursue grant funding through the United States Tennis Association (USTA) for a portion of the project cost and investigate alternatives for financing the estimated $145,000 remainder.
The fifth court would bring economic benefit, said Community Development Director Jami Westervelt, because it would allow the West Side Tennis Club to host tournaments - bringing visitors and revenue to the community.
Tennis club representatives have gone before the council on multiple occasions to ask for improvements to the courts.
Some have been made and are greatly appreciated, said club representative Pat Rocha, but the underlying problems are only growing worse.
“We just have a long way to go. We have a crack on the third court that a ball rolled into and literally went out of sight,” Rocha told the council. “It is getting to be a larger liability as we speak.”
The club at one time was able to host tournaments on the four courts before rules were changed to require five. When West Side was hosting, she said, the local courts were superior to some in private clubs and a point of pride.
Now, she said, other teams “don’t come this way and we’re kind of glad they don’t until something can be done.”
Rocha agreed that enabling the local club to host tournaments would be a benefit to the community.
“Businesses would get more people in that day. There would be more activity downtown,” she stated.
But none of the alternatives for addressing the condition of the courts is inexpensive, with or without the fifth court.
Even a very short-term fix is likely to cost the city in excess of $40,000, Westervelt told the council in presenting options. That was a non-starter among local leaders.
A “slip-sheeting” option would provide life of 15 years or longer to the courts, Westervelt reported, at a cost to the city of $100,000 (after a $20,000) grant. But adding a fifth court would allow the city to apply for $50,000 in USTA funding, resulting in a total cost to the city of $145,000.
All costs cited were estimates, she emphasized, and formal bids would be required if the project moves forward. The USTA grants are competitive, City Manager Doug Dunford said, which means that there is no guarantee of approval.
Adding a fifth court for the cost of around $45,000 makes sense, council members indicated.
“I would like to see it done right and add the court,” said council member Rich Ford. “They get a lot of usage.”
He said the city could pursue additional grants for its share of the cost, or possibly finance as needed against future utility user tax revenues.
Lighting was also discussed. Council members said lighting could be addressed as a separate project independently of the tennis court improvements and additions.
For the purposes of the tennis club, Rocha said, adding lights to the fifth court would not be imperative.
But doing so, she noted, may help entice the Gustine High tennis team back to the Schmidt Park courts, which they left several years ago in favor of the courts at Gustine Middle School.
The court improvements, Dunford told Mattos Newspapers, dovetail with overall park upgrades planned by the city.
“It is time that we do something with those courts,” he stated. “I think it will be a big benefit to the city and the citizens.”
The sooner those improvements can take place the better, said Mayor Pat Nagy.
“I think we need to fast-track this, before somebody gets hurt,” he stated. “If we have balls disappearing in a crack, that’s dangerous.”