Taxpayers helped fund the tennis courts built at schools around Wake County, but dozens of those courts are behind locked gates with warning signs telling people to keep out.
Some towns have agreements with the Wake school system to open school tennis courts for public use, but local tennis groups say more than 94 locked high school tennis courts can’t be used by the community. These tennis supporters want Wake to open up those school courts to help ease a shortage of local public courts.
“Courts sitting empty when there’s a high demand in Wake County for tennis just doesn’t make sense,” Julie Dick, executive director of the Raleigh Tennis Association, said at last week’s school board meeting.
School officials are surveying high schools about what they’re doing now with their courts. But Joe Desormeaux, assistant superintendent for facilities, said that any greater public use of tennis courts has to be weighed against the additional costs of maintaining and operating them.
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“Taxpayers built it, but you’ve also got to maintain and operate it,” Desormeaux said. “If you don’t have everything we need in our budget, we’re not necessarily maintaining and operating it to the level which it is used beyond what our students use.”
Courts are generally locked up after there have been multiple cases of vandalism, according to Desormeaux.
But tennis advocates told the school board last week that empty and unused tennis courts are more likely to have vandalism issues. They said the combination of video surveillance and tennis players at the courts would deter vandals.
“If there’s people playing tennis on the tennis courts, the skateboarders aren’t going to be on the courts.” Laura Weygandt, executive director of the Western Wake Tennis Association, said at last week’s board meeting. “People aren’t going to be doing things they shouldn’t be doing.”
The request comes at a time when tennis supporters, who estimate there are 200 public courts in Wake County, have been lobbying for more public courts. The city of Raleigh hasn’t built new tennis courts in 20 years but is considering building eight more courts at the Biltmore Hills Community Center in Southeast Raleigh.
Players sometimes wait more than an hour now to get on a court, according to Dick.
“People are being deterred from doing something that’s a social benefit as well as a mental and health benefit,” Dick said in an interview. “They may not come back, which would be a shame.”
Former state Rep. Paul Stam estimated that the 94 locked courts have a replacement value of $6 million to $7 million. Stam touted the health benefits of tennis at last week’s school board meeting, saying he’s played 2,000 matches on public courts over the last 40 years.
“Let’s free up those tennis courts and help people get healthy,” he said.
Both local tennis associations have offered to help the school district develop a plan for managing public use of the courts.
“Those courts were paid for taxpayers, so the public should be able to use them,” Weygandt said in an interview. “But we also want to work with them (Wake) in a way that makes it comfortable with them.”