By Megan Dooley
After more than a year of research and planning, the River Forest Park District said that construction will begin this week on two platform tennis courts in Keystone Park, the off-season answer to the traditionally summer sport.
Concurrent with construction will be continued discussion about plans to potentially leave the lights on at the new Keystone courts as late as midnight to accommodate platform tennis tournament play. Some residents who live near Keystone are objecting to such a plan and the village board will weigh in on the issue before this month is over.
"It was two years ago that the first discussions (about the new sport) happened," said Mike Sletten, executive director of the park district. Those initial talks were prompted by residents who had heard about the rising popularity of the sport in other towns.
The sport is played on elevated courts, with heating systems built beneath the deck to allow for winter play. The heating system melts snow and ice that accumulate on the courts. Players use paddles in place of racquets to hit the ball, and the sport is sometimes referred to as paddle tennis.
Kitty Bingham, who was one of the original backers of the platform tennis proposal, said at a public meeting earlier this month that the sport is highly popular in the Chicago area, with other communities already adding additional courts to respond to the high demand. In River Forest, more than 100 families have already indicated that they would be willing to pay the membership fees necessary to use the courts.
And though a number of residents who live adjacent to Keystone Park, Lake Street at Keystone Avenue, complained at the meeting that the park district did not sufficiently inform residents of the tennis court plans, Bingham disagreed.
"I've been to over seven meetings in this room regarding paddle tennis," Bingham said, adding that there have been notices on the park district's website, in local newspapers, and on fliers posted throughout Keystone Park. "I'm aware of hundreds of people in the community who [have voiced interest]," she said. "I guess I disagree that it hasn't been well publicized."
The park district began to formally discuss the platform tennis courts in the spring of 2010. "The idea had been kind of sitting out there and then the board started openly discussing it, [and] having some meetings on it," Sletten said.
Sletten estimated that construction should take two to three weeks, and the courts will be fully installed by the end of August. At the same time, renovations will be made to an adjacent field house, which will be used as a warming space for paddle tennis players, and will also be used for various other park district programs. Total Platform Tennis was awarded the bid for $160,000 to install the courts. They won an alternate bid to install an aluminum ramp at roughly $10,500.
Part two of the project includes bringing power and gas to the courts, for the heating system and lighting. That won't happen until September, Sletten said. But he said he expects that the courts will be operational by Oct. 1. The cost estimates for this portion of the project are not yet available, according to Sletten.
The park district has also assembled a platform tennis task force, made up of a combination of park district staff, board members, and village residents, which will be responsible for establishing the platform tennis association that will handle resident memberships. The task force will also be charged with investigating the possibility of including River Forest in platform tennis league play, as there are a number of active leagues throughout the greater Chicago area at this time.
Bingham said that involvement in league play is an important way for the village to make the investment in paddle tennis courts worthwhile. But this suggestion sparked controversy at last month's public meeting, which was held to discuss changes to a local ordinance regarding lighting at Keystone Park.
Because many of the leagues engage in night play, it would be necessary for the lights to remain operational until 12 a.m. daily.
"Their hours are past 10 o'clock. It's part of the sport," said Bingham of the paddle tennis leagues. "[The park district is] not going to make this significant investment in paddle courts and not have the courts set up as something that is going to be successful."
But park abutters complained that the lights should be on no later than 10 p.m., so not to disrupt the neighbors. The issue is slated for discussion by the River Forest Village Board of Trustees at its Sept.12 meeting.
Corrections have been made to this article.