After almost a year of debate, the Upper Perkiomen School Board decided last Thursday to move forward with a complete rebuild of the tennis courts at Upper Perkiomen High School. But that vote was made contingent upon a grant application to the United States Tennis Association (USTA), which will delay the start of construction.
The board voted, by a margin of 5-4, to award the project to S & H Landscaping of Chalfont at a cost of $326,000. Officials previously said they expected bids to come in around $450,000. Directors Rob Pepe, Raeann Hofkin, John Gehman and Margie Gehlhaus voted against the measure.
Concerns about the playability of the courts, which are open to the public, began back in October 2012, said Asst. Superintendent Dr. Fran Leskowicz at the meeting.
The courts, which were built sometime in the 1970s, were experiencing “crowning” in the middle and structural cracks, and the poles were being held up by straps, among other issues. A school board official previously described the courts as a liability, held together with “rubber bands and bubble gum.”
Athletic Director Steve Perlstein said he, Facilities Director John Sheeran, engineer David Horn of Architerra, PC and two administrators agreed that a complete reconstruction of the courts with the installation of windscreens was the most economical option which would provide the best return on the district’s money. The windscreens would serve to block strong winds off the Green Lane Reservoir.
That option would include the installation of “under-drainage” to deal with problems with stormwater runoff.
“I think it’s important the board clearly understands that the high school tennis courts are not utilized by our girls’ and boys’ varsity and JV tennis programs only,” Perlstein said. “The courts will be used by close to 900 students during the fall and spring school year [as part of one of two major units in the high school physical education curriculum]. Additionally, the courts are currently the only playable tennis courts open to the community in the Upper Perkiomen Valley [and are] used heavily by the community during the week and on weekends.”
Perlstein went on to say experts estimated it would be 25-30 years before they would have to address any structural issues with a reconstruction and only two to four years if the board chose to fill and patch current cracks.
Perlstein said he is also pursuing a grant from the United States Tennis Association (USTA) ranging from $30,000 to $50,000, to help with court expenses. Business Administrator Sandy Kassel said funds for the project would be taken out of the district’s capital expense account, which stands at $2.8 million.
The board, after further debate which included a motion by Pepe to only award the project if the district secured grant monies, decided in the end to await word from the USTA on the grant application by Perlstein before breaking ground. The grant would not be awarded if construction had already commenced, Perlstein said.
It will be 60 days from the date of the grant application until the board definitively hears whether or not it is being awarded to Upper Perkiomen, Perlstein said, per the application.
“I think it’s important to get the biggest bang for our buck and be the best stewards of our money,” Pepe said of waiting on the grant status.
That decision will delay the start of construction, which was scheduled for Sept. 20. Officials said they hoped to hear from the USTA before the bid was no longer valid Oct. 27. If the USTA’s decision surpasses that date, the board would require an extension from the builder and costs could increase, they said.
Aside from funding issues, board members also had extensive questionins about everything from the ability to reuse the current fence to installing artificial turf on the courts.
Horn noted that artificial turf wouldn’t allow for sliding and was very slow. While it isn’t banned by the USTA or PIAA, it would require much more maintenance than a synthetic turf athletic field, with one grooming procedure alone slated to take 30 hours each month.
“If you think about it we are looking at as little as $13,000 a year, $9,000 to $10,000 with grant money, to correct a long-term problem and create a quality facility,” Director Harry Quinque said of the complete rebuild as proposed.
“It’s $13 a student. That sounds like a good investment to me,” added Director Jennifer Allebach.
After the vote, one member of the community questioned whether the tennis courts would be closed to the public after being redone, as was the track and football stadium at the high school after artificial turf was installed.
“Are we going to spend all this money on the courts and not have them be open to the public? In a month, a week, a year, what assurance do I have as a member of the public that I won’t be back here?” asked Cathy Boyle of Pennsburg.
Board President Bill Scott said it was the school board’s prerogative to close the tennis courts at any time because of abuse, but officials noted the potential for abuse was not as great as on the school’s artificial turf, which had been vandalized and could be damaged by gum, cleats and even sports drinks.
Other directors, Allebach and Pepe, said in their opinions the courts would remain open to the community at large and the board would deal with each situation at the facilities on a one-on-one basis.
“I want to reiterate that I serve on the school board to serve the school district,” Scott explained. “We are providing facilities for the rest of the community, but I have to consider the school district first and the community second.”
Scott went on to say he didn’t want to lock the courts, but he would lock those facilities or anything else if he felt they were being abused.