There’s a push underway by some in Somers to replace the surfaces of the Reis Park tennis courts with a hard-court finish, something the town said won’t likely happen on the existing courts despite complaints.

Alison Cheung, a parent of four students in the Somers Central School District, first broached the idea on Facebook. Getting a big response, she created a petition on Change.org to resurface the courts. Her petition had 33 signatures as of Tuesday, Nov. 6. 

The school district doesn’t have its own tennis courts. But under an agreement with the town, the school’s tennis teams play at Reis Park at no cost in return for residents’ using school facilities for free as well.  

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Asked to comment on the petition, Matt Carr, the school district’s director of human resources and student services, said only,

“We are aware of the request to resurface the tennis courts.”

At Reis Park, OmniCourt, a synthetic grass, covers three of the six courts. The other three are made with Sport Court, an interlocking plastic grid surface that also allows things like rollerblading or scooters, which would destroy a hard court.

The surfaces are “not traditional,” Parks and Recreation Superintendent Steve Ralston said, but were chosen to maximize the uses of the courts.

Residents complain that the courts are slippery when wet and that the surface causes the ball to bounce differently. 

The asphalt under the surfaces is more than 30 years old, Ralston said, creating a challenge when it came time to do upgrades.

In early 2000, Ralston said, the community pushed for the OmniCourt and Sport Court because other sports could be played on the surface.

Then last year, the town sought bids to replace the surface of the three OmniCourt courts with Premier Court. But when contractors came to view the site they said it couldn’t be done without ripping up the subsurface, Ralston said.

“Our best option was to go back to what we were replacing,” Ralston said, which is how the town ended up with three new OmniCourt surfaces. “We wanted to do a system called Premier Court, which is a coating … that plays like a hard court,” he said. “We didn’t receive any bids and in the conversations when the bidder comes out to inspect the conditions, they opined that maybe we should go back and replace it with what we currently have.“

Ralston agreed that ”when either of those surfaces are wet they are slippery. But there’s a big sign that says ‘slippery when wet’ … so people choose to play after they’ve been informed that they’re going to be slippery.”

When it’s raining the town cancels its lessons, Ralston said, but it’s up to the district’s athletic director, Roman Catalino, to make the call for school teams.

He further said that he knows the courts upset “tennis purists” and that the surface is unfamiliar to visiting tennis teams. Still, he said, the school district has not complained to him about the courts.
 

Cheung said she first approached the school district about building its own courts, but was told there was no place to put them. When she went to the town, she was told the courts had just been re-done.

“Other coaches are coming from other teams and it’s embarrassing,” Cheung said. “It’s not just about the kids and the varsity and JV program. Senior citizens that play there during the morning are sliding and falling. It’s not safe.”

On her Facebook post, more than 30 people have chimed in. Some said they would support an initiative for new courts but were realistic that they likely wouldn’t be built at the high school. 

Others offered their own gripes. One woman said she had recently fallen on the courts while another called the courts a “joke” and said she had complained many times. A man said he worried that his shoe was going to get stuck in the surface when he ran to get the ball.

In the petition, Cheung said resurfacing the courts would cost between $4,000 and $10,000. But Ralston called that amount the cost to replace a crack in a court, not to rip up the subsurface and redo it, which would cost substantially more.

However, there may be a light at the end of the tunnel for tennis lovers.

Ralston said the town is talking with the county about doing a “land swap” in Angle Fly Preserve, giving the town ownership of an 11-acre parcel directly behind the tennis court.

When that happens—and Ralston stressed that could be years in the future—the Parks and Recreation Board would consider moving the tennis courts elsewhere in Reis Park and putting another amenity in their place.

“They can build the courts in a different location and at that time maybe they build hard courts,” Ralston said. 

The problem is, plans for the land swap have been held up by paperwork, halting any progress on development. Ralston said the parks and rec board will seek community input if development starts to move forward. He encouraged residents to come to the board’s meetings now to discuss any recreation issues, including the tennis courts.

“If people like this would choose to come to the park board, the board would be more than willing to go over the history of the ‘whys’ and the ‘hows’ and the ‘why nots,’” Ralston said.