Court Repairs Trapped at the Net

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Local parents of tennis-playing children and tennis lovers who want to see the high school’s well-used courts repaired received a sobering lesson in bureaucracy and budget woes at the Laguna school board last week.

Confusion and frustration reigned as residents tried to sort out who has authority to repair the courts, which, they learned, are jointly operated by the city and school district.

Tennis enthusiasts, who described the courts’ poor condition, testified that at least one visiting team refused to play on them during a recent CIF competition against the high school’s league-winning boys team.

School officials regretted being unable to comply with the plea of proponents for $90,000 towards what they understood to be $300,000 worth of court repairs, despite a fear of losing the city’s $210,000 share in the repairs that was allocated for refurbishment last year.

Undeterred, residents, in turn, expressed their willingness to raise funds privately. Supt. Sherine Smith encouraged them to meet with her and discuss their options.

Due to a district budget shortfall exacerbated by state budget deficits, Norma Shelton, assistant superintendent of business services, said the district could not recommend the expenditure for repairs at a time when they have been forced to make budget cuts across the board.

“We just need a process,” said a frustrated Dave Vanderveen, father of a tennis-playing son. 

Parent Paul Hamilton expressed concern that the district’s slow-moving response could mean city funds would no longer be available.

Proponents were urged to remain to hear a summary of the district’s proposed annual budget to understand their fiscal position.

Susan Cannan, the city’s director of community services, said that experienced staff had provided the $300,000 repair estimate that was discussed at a Parks and Recreation Committee meeting, also attended by some of the same residents pressing for upgrades. A joint inspection with district officials identified cracks, surface imperfections and drainage that needed correcting along with better lighting, she said, adding that city funds were allocated for repairs last July under the agreement that they would split the cost with the school district 70/30.  This led residents to understand that the project could get underway as soon as the school district put up their share or $90,000.

Even if residents covered the district’s share of costs, school officials would be required to oversee the entire project and still need to comply with public bidding regulations and permitting, said Shelton. The district owns the property and is liable for any improvements.

 “Although the city would like the project to move forward, we understand the difficult financial situation facing the school district,” said City Manager John Pietig, reached for comment last week. “The city looks forward to cooperating with the school district when funding becomes available.”

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