Paddle Tennis Saved, Improvements to be Made
Despite membership concerns, Township Committee approves by 3-2 vote allocation to fix courts.
Chatham Recreation head Jack Conway and George Foot of Colony's paddle tennis team asked the committee to consider resurfacing the courts, which are so worn in some places the aluminum beneath is bare to the surface.
Their presentation came on the heels of one by Committee Member Laura Ali Nonnenmacher, who presented a business and marketing plan to increase membership at the Colony recreation facility. The goal, Nonnenmacher said, is to "run Colony like a business," and bring it to the point where the facility either breaks even or turns a profit.
In an analysis of Colony's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, Nonnenmacher specifically mentioned the paddle tennis program. "Paddle tennis is on the uprise in this town," she said, with families and especially women participating in growing numbers.
"The paddle tennis courts are in disrepair," Nonnenmacher said, and by renovating the courts she hopes to increase membership in Colony's program, which has a membership fee of $125. In the 2011-12 season there were 33 members, 18 men and 15 women, and membership fees raised a total of $4,125.
According to Foot, the major costs for the program each year are kerosene, snow removal/maintenance equipment and electricity, since paddle tennis runs in the fall and winter. During the 2010-11 season, when the area had a snow storm almost every week, program costs totaled $2,575. Usually expenses are $2,350, he said.
The committee ordered $5,000 in capital improvements to the paddle tennis courts in 2010. The courts had lost their electric supply when the old club house was demolished. A tree fell on the courts and caused substantial damage to the tension bars and netting during the October 2011 snow storm, cutting into the paddle tennis season.
"With an improved court, our women's program, we hope to get a teen/family program, and the whole Colony Pool business plan, we can increase membership in paddle," Foot said. "There's not a real increase in expenses based on membership," as expenses are mostly weather-based, "and we can more than pay for the improvements within the life of those improvements."
Foot and Conway met with the same company which completed the 2010 renovations, National Platform Tennis. Their proposal includes striping and resurfacing both courts, replacing the upper tension bar damaged in the October 2011 snowstorm and tightening wire screens to bring the courts up to standard.
Foot said he had collected two references from other tennis companies that have employed National Platform Tennis in the past. Conway said he had some misgivings about the company, in particular since they owners are related to the owners of Reilly Green Mountain Platform Tennis, which offered a competing higher bid.
Committee Member Bailey Brower Jr. said he did not believe the improvements would be enough to increase membership in the paddle tennis program. He said there were other expenses not included in Foot's proposal, such as painting the court lines every three years minimum.
Brower drew from his experience of operating paddle tennis at Noe Pond Club, and said other amenities were why people joined a paddle tennis team. "Paddle tennis is a social sport," he said. "People want to sit down, have a drink with their friends," and enjoy better facilities than what Colony could offer.
Mayor Nicole Hagner said her concern was low membership. "I just don't see people in Chatham Township playing paddle," she said, and she had a hard time justifying more money for the program when less than 40 people played. She proposed suspending the program for a year and revisiting the issue.
Committee Members Robert Gallop and Kathy Abbott both said, "if you suspend it for a year, it'll kill the program." Abbott added the recent damages to the court have not been because of use, but because of weather.
"There have been extenuating circumstances," she said. "If we do nothing, the courts will continue to deteriorate," and if the club was going to do "any new push for new membership, you have to be able to say 'These courts are new.'"
Foot said the courts would cost at least $120,000 to install new.
Township Administrator Tom Ciccarone said the area was constantly in danger from falling trees, and improvements to the court may not be safe from weather at any time in the future.
Nonnenmacher said, "I look at is as a holistic approach," and that if improvements were made to the paddle tennis courts, those improvements would benefit the entire facility. "It's a stepping stone."
Brower said it was "bringing a deck up to play."
Gallop said the committee was discussing the issue as if "we're inviting the Olympic Games to come to Chatham." He said, "it is the government's role ... to provide recreation," and made a motion to approve the $12,790 for the improvements. Nonnenmacher seconded the motion.
Nonnenmacher and Abbott voted in favor of the resolution. Brower voted "vehemently" against it, and reminded the committee that they ran on a platform of "saving money."
Gallop cast the third vote in favor of the resolution, saying it seemed like a paltry sum for a program that benefitted more than 30 residents and which could be repaid within the life of the courts.
Hagner cast the second vote against approving the funds.