SITA maintains an email distribution list dedicated to issues relating to the tennis community and local government. As the overwhelming number of courts here are public courts, this is an important issue for the entire tennis community.
Right now it can be tough to get involved and have your voice heard; we want to make that easier. As we hear about surveys, open houses, and workshops from the municipalities that relate to tennis courts we’ll pass that info along to the email list.
Please note that the following text is a work in progress. Our position will evolve over time as we obtain new data and have conversations with the municipalities.
The CRD is blessed in the number of quality tennis courts available to the public. In the majority of municipalities across Canada and the United States a public court means an uneven and warping asphalt surface – any member of the public wishing to have a decent tennis experience is effectively forced into joining a semi-private or private club. While there are private clubs within the CRD, forward thinking decisions by councils and parks departments decades ago has left us with a different, and superior, model for the majority of the tennis playing public. With quality public courts and robust instruction programs run through public recreation departments, tennis in the CRD is more accessible and affordable than nearly anywhere else in Canada. SITA believes that this public-first model should be maintained and serve as inspiration for other municipalities across the country.
While providing these public courts and services has led to much improved access, it comes with unique challenges. Semi-private and private clubs have defined revenue streams and missions that allow easy budgeting of court repair and upgrades; munipalities are faced with conflicting priorities and tight financial constraints. Large groupings of courts are well suited for hosting events and creating social interaction – with their simplified focus the club model provides this, but our public model currently has difficulty in creating the same type of community feel. With their clearer financing, clubs are better able to provide low-impact playing surfaces that are important to the long term health of their players. SITA recognizes that the challenges faced by the municipalities and a public-first model are significant but believes that with smart planning, innovative solutions, and better colloboration between the tennis community and municipalities that we can maintain and strengthen the public commons, public health, and the game of tennis within the CRD.
It must be noted that the timing of SITA’s public position on these matters is tied to the current condition of public courts throughout the region. The declining condition of public court inventories has directly led to discussions and proposals for semi-private and private clubs – SITA recognizes the value in the club system, but is concerned that a significant expansion in clubs will lead to a further decline of the public system. League play has expanded year after year and finds itself being pushed further and further outside the downtown core as courts are lost without replacement. Many of the public courts are growing closer to the end of their lifespan – court deterioration has been increasing each year and will continue to do so. While tempting to lay the blame on municipalities, the real blame lies upon the tennis community itself – we have been too complacent, riding comfortably on a legacy left to us decades ago. We need to do better – more involved with the municipalities, more involved with each other, and we must foster a greater sense of pride and ownership in the unique public system we have.
Growing the community, making priorities
Thus far, our public system has largely focused on smaller blocks of 1 to 2 courts within local parks, with a couple parks hosting larger blocks of 4 to 5 courts. We believe that these two types of installation should be treated differently – the small court blocks should exist to provide local access and provide an introduction to the sport, while the larger blocks should exist to build community and promote the development of the sport.
We believe those larger blocks and both more used and more important to the health and growth of the sport; as such we’d like to the see municipalities have expanded priorities for them. They should be subject to more frequent court repainting, be exempt from any mixed-sport use/painting, and be given higher priority for low-impact surface considerations. Long term, the municipalities should identify sites suitable for new build outs or expansion where 8 or more courts could exist.
A larger block of courts would increase interaction and exposure for the tennis community. With our current courts, we are limited in the type of events that can exist – our local tournaments are forced to split across multiple locations, which decreases turnouts and involvment. With a block of 8 courts, not only would be Victoria Open and Island Open be able to be hosted at a single location, we’d be eligible to host provincial events like the Miele league championship and provincial finals.
Better court maintenance
At a most basic level, we’d like to see the municipalities do a better job at keeping up to date on court maintenance. We expect cracks to be patched yearly, to maintain both court playability and longevity. We’d like to see schedules created and available online for the various courts as to when they will receive repainting or resurfacing – the community deserves to know when courts will be repaired.
Low Impact court surfaces
Currently, all public courts within the CRD are hardcourts. Hardcourts have large up front construction costs but low year over year maintenance costs, making them historically favoured in municipal budgets – one time capital costs are often easier to account for than recurring costs. However, they have a hidden cost – the impact on players’ long term health. Tennis is a sport that involves short burts of sprinting and changing direction – the shock from running on a hard surface combined with the stress of quickly changing direction wears on player’s knees, hips, and back.
When building new trails, sports tracks, and children’s playgrounds the municipalities clearly recognize the benefit of low-impact surfaces – thus far, that same recognition has not applied to tennis courts. While clay eliminates much of the wear and tear problems and has lower up front installation costs, the daily maintanence needs of clay courts would be difficult for municipalities to manage. SITA instead recommends the municipalities look at sand-filled artificial turf. Artificial turf is low-impact, would expand the use of courts in rainy weather, and could lead to both a decrease the maintenance costs of the courts and to an extension of the lifespan of retrofitted courts. While virtually unknown here for tennis, it has been used elsewhere for over 30 years.
Traditionally, artificial turf tennis courts were laid overtop sand and gravel beds, but is now also used overtop concrete and asphalt as a way to recondition old courts. The turf strands are around 20mm long, but most of that is filled up with (normal) sand. An installation might also have an underlay layer beneath the turf to help direct water off the court. The turf (and optional underlayer) provides a cushioning effect, making the surface much easier on the body. Additionally, players are able to slide (ala clay), which further reduces strain on the knee.
Artificial turf courts can be used 5 minutes after a rainfall – water drains quickly through the turf so there is no pooling, and the turf and sand still provide grip while damp. In the spring and fall, local hardcourts can remain in unsafe conditions for hours or all day after a minor rain – artificial turf would greatly extend the amount of time the courts are availble for use.
The artificial turf provides an insulating layer to the concrete or asphalt underneath. In the summer, it reduces the heat passing through to the asphalt or concrete and reduces thermal expansion. In the winter, it helps insulate it and slightly reduces thermal contraction. Installed with an underlayer, water is efficiently drained off the court to reduce the amount flowing through cracks in the aphalt or concrete – reducing water’s impact on cracks’ growth rate as the asphalt or concrete ages.
Maintaining hardcourts is generally cheap – beyond a good pressure wash each year, they need some occasional crack patching and repainting every 5-7 years (approx $3000-$8000/court). As the courts near the end of their lifespan, cracking becomes more frequent and maintenance becomes more expensive. At 30-40 years old (or older), many of the public courts are moving into that old age. Artificial turf could extend the life span of those courts and reduce maintanence costs, possibly to the point where the $10000/court material cost (including underlay) pays for itself.
Artificial turf courts do require more maintenance than hardcourts – for the first year to year and a half after installation they need to be swept weekly until the courts “settle” and about once a month therafter to keep the sand levels even throughout. SITA believes that community volunteers could easily fulfill this role, at no cost to the municipalities, and looks forward to working with the city to organize such. However, the distribution of volunteers across the region may be uneven – local volunteer availability may dictate which courts we target for low-impact resurfacing.