Students and neighbors had a heated meeting in the Brady Educational Center auditorium Tuesday night to voice concerns and discuss St. Thomas’ tennis court proposal.
“Finally show the neighborhood that you [St. Thomas] do care,” one neighbor said during the meeting.
The proposal includes six tennis courts behind BEC on the corner of Mississippi River Boulevard and Goodrich Avenue. The project would cost an estimated $800,000 dollars, and construction would start no earlier than this coming summer.
The meeting is part of the planning process, said Doug Hennes, vice president for university relations.
“We have not made a decision yet,” he said. “We are considering whether or not to do it. Part of the process is to present the plan to the community.”
The meeting attendees were mostly against the proposal, Hennes said.
“There were 100 people in the audience and I would bet 80 of them are against having the courts,” he said. “It’s what I expected based on e-mails and phone calls I’ve received in the last three weeks.”
The university looked at different areas on campus to add tennis courts, including the top of the Anderson parking ramp, Hennes said in the meeting. He said the area behind BEC is the best option because it involves less grading, needs no retaining walls, and loses the fewest trees.
There would be a 10-foot-high, chain-link fence with a windscreen around the courts during the tennis season. There would be no lights except for those on the walking paths in the area. There would also be a storage shed that would be lit from inside and an infiltration pond to collect runoff from the courts.
Hennes said the university was “very careful to make sure we observe all the zoning issues.”
A place to practice
The only place on campus to play tennis is in the field house of the Anderson Athletic and Recreation Complex. Currently, St. Thomas is the only school in the MIAC without on-campus regulation tennis courts, which means the team has to look somewhere else to practice.
“The courts at the field house give us a good place to practice in the winter months,” said assistant tennis coach Jono Martin. “But as far as playing matches there, it is not an actual tennis surface, it’s a multipurpose surface.”
In the past, St. Thomas has been able to use the tennis courts at St. Kate’s, but it would be easier to have courts on campus, said assistant tennis coach Drew Carlson.
“In the spring, if St. Kate’s is having an away match, we have been able to play there once or twice,” Carlson said. “But scheduling conflicts are always the issue.”
Along with scheduling conflicts, there are also the fees that come with renting tennis courts.
“We go to Baseline and we have to pay $25 a court for an hour,” said Martin.
Some neighbors suggested reducing the number of courts to save green space. But to host an NCAA-sanctioned match, six playing courts are required.
Neighbors voice concerns, sign petition
St. Thomas neighbors’ biggest concern was losing the green space behind BEC and its effect on the environment.
“I don’t see how St. Thomas, if they really have made a bid for sustainability, is taking that into action [with this project],” local resident LeAnn Taylor said.
The question the audience kept asking was, “Will you please reconsider building the tennis courts?” Adults were not the only concerned neighbors. Children also voiced concerns about what taking out trees would do to the animals of the area, especially the squirrels.
“I understand there is a tennis team, that takes a few months of the year,” one audience member said. “The green space is year round.”
The community also voiced concerns about parking on Goodrich Avenue. The complaint was that permit parking has already had to be enforced in some areas, to which Hennes said, “We would encourage people to walk.”
Another community member said she started a petition and collected 90 signatures before the meeting to stop the building of the tennis courts, and she intended to have more signatures by the end of the night.
The petition has no weight in the final decision, Hennes said.
“Legally, we (St. Thomas) are within our rights to develop the property as long as we observe the zoning code issues,” he said. “It’s a political statement.”
St. Thomas is still deciding whether or not to move forward with plans.
“We’ll have some internal discussions at the president staff level and decide what we are going to do,” Hennes said. “I am sure we will take it up with our trustees when they meet in February and make a decision on whether or not we are going to move forward.”
Colleen Schreier can be reached at email@example.com.