My Suburban Life

Whose Fault? Tennis courts closed after dispute between Park District of La Grange, District 105

The tennis courts at 53rd Street and South Catherine in La Grange were closed suddenly July 1 after an intergovernmental agreement between the Park District of La Grange and School District 105 was terminated.

Tennis player Nick Bailey was floored to discover the gates to three tennis courts at 53rd Street and Catherine Avenue in La Grange padlocked July 9.

“It’s disappointing they can’t figure out some kind of compromise to keep it going. It’s going to sit there, be inviting, and nobody can use it,” said Bailey, 42.

He’s not alone. Nearly 300 people have signed an online petition called “Save Spring Avenue Tennis Courts.” They are named for the elementary school nearby.

The tennis courts were locked up July 1 because the Park District of La Grange unanimously voted in June to not renew a 10-year intergovernmental agreement with La Grange School District 105 on whose land the park sits.

The school district’s liability insurance company advised it to close the tennis courts for safety concerns.

The agreement, which was initiated in 1992, has been renewed twice since.

In the agreement, the park district pays 100% of maintenance costs for the courts that are owned by the school district. The school district is willing to consider sharing some of the cost.

Bailey, who lives one block away in Countryside, frequently plays tennis at the courts or practices his serves there against a large wooden board.

Told there are liability insurance concerns regarding cracks in the courts, Bailey winced.

“Get out of town,” Bailey said. “What’s worse? Not being able to use it or have some of your serves go a little bit off because they hit a crack. I’ve never seen anybody fall down.”

The park district “has limited resources,” Executive Director Jenny Bechtold said, and that forced the decision to not renew the deal.

School District 105 Superintendent Brian Ganan said, “we didn’t want to shut the courts down.”

“Our insurance company said to shut them down immediately because they’re a liability risk. So we did,” he said. “We’ve been trying to work with the park district to come up with a solution, to come together to repair the courts.”

“The courts are as they are,” Ganan said. “They’re bad. I may be exaggerating, but there may be four inches of grass in the cracks. It’s not level in many areas. You can see that when it rains.”

The school district hopes to arrive “at an amicable solution,” Ganan said, adding the district “knows the community uses them.”

Tennis players are often seen there from dawn to dusk except for winter months and rainy days. Many children have learned to ride their bikes there. Heated games of Whiffle Ball and street hockey often are played on the courts, which are not lighted.

Ganan and Bechtold have heard from frustrated tennis players.

“It hurts to put our name on that letter,” Ganan said. “We were hoping we could come up with a solution. ... When the day came, here we are, we have to do this.”

Bechtold said the park district board decided to let the agreement lapse and focus resources on other priorities.

“[The tennis courts] are at the end of life and in need of a capital life cycle replacement,” she said.

The last time the courts were completely renovated was in 2004, she said. Regular maintenance is “quite expensive,” she added.

“It depends on what you need to have done, but to crack fill and reseal every three to four years can be anywhere between $30,000 to $50,000. And it’s getting more expensive,” Bechtold said.

Asked if the school district would be open to sharing the maintenance costs, Gana said, “I think that’s something we’d be open to.”

In the meantime, there are tennis players such as John Hunter of Countryside, who had hoped to practice hitting 150 serves against a large wooden board at the courts’ west end in the late afternoon July 9.

Hunter was seen shaking his head after reading the notice at the padlocked gate.

“Now I’ll drive up to [the courts at] Gilbert Park,” said Hunter, 60. “There are very nice [courts] in Western Springs, too, but this happens to be three and a half minutes from my house. I kind of like that.”

The park district maintains four tennis courts at Gilbert Park and four at Sedgwick Park, Bechtold said.

“We want to support recreation at parks throughout the community, but, again, we do have limited resources,” Bechtold said. “We have our own facilities and infrastructure that we need to take care of as well.”

Residents such as David Wong, who lives across the street, think both entities should support the tennis courts.

Wong, whose daughter plays tennis for Lyons Township High School, started a “Save Spring Avenue Tennis Courts” petition at change.org/SpringTennisCourts.

As of 9 p.m. July 12, 303 individuals had signed his petition.

“The original purpose of the intergovernmental agreement was to provide adequate playground and recreational facilities at the most economical costs to the residents and taxpayers of the school district and park district, which should continue to be the collective objective,” Wong said July 11.

He urged the park district and school district to work together to find a solution.

“We, as well as the 290 plus individuals and families who have signed the petition thus far, were both shocked and disappointed to learn that the La Grange Park District Board of Commissioners and District 105 School Board were unable to come to an agreement and make decisions that allow for the courts to continue to serve the community,” Wong said.

Petition signer Rosemary Murphy wrote “it’s a no brainer to repair them” adding, “do your jobs!”