By Maria Maxham
It's a platform tennis match, but this one's off the courts, not on, as River Forest park district board members and residents debate the addition of a fifth and sixth platform tennis court and an accompanying paddle hut.
A feasibility study on adding the extra courts and hut, as part of the park district's bigger 2020 strategic plan, is up for vote at a Sept. 14 meeting.
At the last park district board meeting on Aug. 10, the draft strategic plan was amended to move the platform tennis court and paddle hut feasibility study up to the first year of the three-year plan through a 3-2 vote. Commissioners Lyn Libera, Mark Brown and Cheryl Cargie voted in favor of an earlier deep dive into the possibility of a platform tennis expansion. Commissioner Dennis Healy expressed his desire to keep it where it was in the plan and look at removing the paddle hut from the plan. Board President Ross Roloff wanted the objective removed completely from the plan.
According to Roloff in an interview on Sept. 10, his opposition to the program stems from the park district's survey of residents, looking at how they use the park district and what initiatives they'd like to see. One of the items included in the 2020 survey was platform tennis.
The results of the survey show that about 64 percent of respondents do not support construction of two additional platform tennis courts and a paddle hut, even though the estimated $1.5 million cost "would be budgeted to be paid back to the Park District in 20 years through platform tennis memberships and user fees with no net expense to the taxpayers."
"The board loses credibility if we do a survey and ignore the results," said Roloff. "We lose even more credibility if we only ignore certain results." A similar percentage of respondents, for example, said they were opposed to a partnership between the park district and the YMCA to develop a recreation center. Because about two-thirds of respondents said they weren't interested, the board isn't even talking about it, said Roloff. The platform tennis additions, he argued, should be no different.
Roloff said he has nothing against the paddle community. "But 175-odd residents' enthusiasm for an activity shouldn't be more important than a public survey. This is an ill-advised direction," Roloff said.
Resident Greg White is also opposed to adding platform tennis courts and a hut. In an interview with Wednesday Journal, he talked about the survey results. "It's a travesty. It's a joke. You put out a survey, and then you don't like the results, so you're not going to pay attention to it," said White.
White, president of the River Forest Youth Baseball Softball (RFYBS) league, has been vocal in his opposition to platform tennis initiatives before, calling the paddle hut nothing more than a bar.
A big part of his opposition to the project, he said, centers around the fact that only around 150 River Forest residents are members of the platform tennis club, yet their needs and desires dictate decisions that should be made with a majority of citizens in mind.
"That's crazy," said White. "Spread the wealth, is what I'm really kind of getting at … I want to bring this situation to light and make people aware that this is absolutely insane."
But the board members who supported moving the feasibility study into the first year of the strategic plan argue that platform tennis in River Forest is self-supporting, paid for through an enterprise fund, not through taxpayer dollars.
Cargie, who voted in favor of moving the feasibility study to the first year of the park district's strategic plan initiatives, said that it's only a feasibility study at this point, not a vote to actually put in the courts. She added that platform tennis is the park district's most popular program, and that one of the arguments against adding two paddle courts is that it would eliminate a tennis court, something that wouldn't happen.
"The tennis court would be moved," Cargie said. "We would not be getting rid of it."
Cargie added that platform tennis maintenance and improvements are all paid for by membership dues through an enterprise fund.
"It's self-supported," Cargie said.
Brown, who is also in favor of the feasibility study, said he thinks there is "misinformation being disseminated" about the project. Like Cargie, he said the only thing up for vote at the Sept. 14 meeting is a feasibility study for the platform tennis additions, not whether to do the project itself or not.
He said that if the feasibility study is approved and the project ultimately moves forward, he doesn't want any taxpayer money to be spent on it and opposes reduction or removal of any other park amenities, such as tennis courts, hitting walls, or batting cages.
"If we proceed, I would want that to happen only if we don't touch any taxpayer money to do this," Brown said.
The park district board meeting to discuss and vote on the strategic plan is on Monday, Sept. 14. More information is available on the park district website at https://rfparks.com/.
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