Tennis community rallies for indoor facility in Columbia

The modest-sized boardroom at the Columbia Association’s headquarters was overflowing Thursday evening with tennis players who urged the CA Board of Directors to expedite construction of an indoor tennis facility.

The majority of the approximately 90 people who attended the work session on the fiscal year 2015 and fiscal year 2016 budgets were tennis advocates. Some were wearing athletic garb and others were toting tennis rackets.

Leading the 40-minute testimony was Leo Bruette, chair of the Columbia Tennis Committee, who reiterated the need for the planned $3.5 million, six-court facility, which will be located near the SportsPark in Harper's Choice.

“We are advocating that the budgeting for the SportsPark facility be accelerated back to its original schedule,” said Bruette, who has been a fixture at CA budget hearings. 

The facility was scheduled to open in 2015. Currently, the proposed draft budget has allocated funding in a way that would delay the project to 2016.

The indoor facility is planned as a replacement for the five courts located underneath the aging tennis bubble at the Owen Brown Village Center.

It is expected that the courts at that location will become outdoor courts. River Hill resident and tennis player Andrea Levinson stressed the importance of getting a new indoor facility soon.

"Although we really want more courts, that's not what we are doing here. We are saying we need a replacement for the bubble," she said. "We are just trying to keep the status quo. ... Our bubble can go any day."

Michael Cornell, board member from River Hill and chair of the subcommittee that hosted the work session, said that although the vote on the budgets is later this month, there is still time to move money around. 

"These type of turnouts are influential," Cornell said. 

Any change, though, would likely mean taking away money from another project, as the parameters for each budget have already been set. 

"We collectively as a board need to decide which ones get accelerated and which ones have to wait," he said. "This is isn't a yes or no to whether or not we get a facility. ... It's all a timing issue."

Cornell also said the board does not have a lot of flexibility in the capital budget, which is projected to be $12.6 million in 2015 and $9.9 million in 2016. The lack of flexibility is due, in part, to building upgrades required by the American Disabilities Act, which is estimated to be between $7 million and $10 million. 

"The impact the ADA is having on budget is our reality," Cornell said. "We can only do the best we can with what we have. This is the hand we've been dealt. ... We don't want to raise rates. ... This is the pot of money we are playing with, and we can only do so much."

The board is scheduled to meet on Feb. 13 and again on Feb. 27, which is when it is expected to vote on the budget. 

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