A request for $394,000 from the Searcy Youth Tennis League to rebuild the courts at Berryhill Park was not released on Tuesday as Searcy’s Advertising and Tourism Promotion Commission decided to postpone it until the next meeting.
Amanda Watson, who works with the Arkansas Tennis Association as coordinator of the Searcy Youth Tennis League, made the request. She said pickleball was also part of the plan for the courts, which she says were built in the mid-1970s by tennis enthusiasts.
“They did it with city funding and private donations,” she said.
Since that time, Watson said to his knowledge and to the knowledge of those involved in the project years ago, the courts have never been resurfaced, “not even surfaced at any time, so you can imagine the state they are in”.
Due to the condition of the courts, Watson said Searcy Youth Tennis was no longer able to use them.
“There are only two, maybe three that are playable and even then they pose quite significant risks for any type of competitive play,” she said, adding that the two backcourts , which would normally have been in the best condition because they are newer, “flooded badly so the foundation is just terrible.”
The youth tennis program serves between 75 and 150 families, according to Watson.
“In the spring, we had 125 children,” she said. “We have already had up to 200 during the season. We are the largest youth program in Arkansas. We are the shining gem of Arkansas tennis for young people. In the past we have taken teams to the State Tournament at Burns Park [in North Little Rock]. We have a lot of eyes on us right now.
Watson said that before COVID-19 hit, she and other Arkansas tennis representatives met with Mayor Kyle Osborne and they shared that Searcy is “the hub of tennis, especially tennis for young people”. She said the biggest tennis centers are Little Rock and Jonesboro and Searcy is right in the middle of the two.
“They want to come and do tournaments,” Watson said. “They want to come in and make Searcy an even bigger tennis community. Every week we get emails asking for adult leagues and just based on some research we’ve done we think if we offer an adult league we’d have 150-200 adults involved in that so we are talking about a very large community.
Watson said what she was asking “was to open up the conversation” about tennis at Searcy. “What you will find is that Berryhill is structurally terrible.”
The company that offered to fix the courts is Australian Court Works, she said. Watson said what the company was proposing was to use the existing structure of the foundation and rebuild it with rebar on it, build it about 8 inches so it would be playable for an extended period of time. “We’re looking at another 40 years’ worth of use.”
“We wouldn’t find a respectable contractor who would just walk in and resurface,” she added. “It’s just not possible.”
Watson said the tennis league would like the first five courts to remain tennis courts so the league can be moved there.
“At any time, we could lose access to the Harding University tennis courts,” Watson said. “In fact, starting this fall, we will start paying court costs, at more than $10 per child.”
She said the courts could be used to hold tournaments in Searcy, which would bring families. Then, the last two fields of Berryhill could “be transformed into a pickleball center”.
Commissioner Tommy Centola noted that the estimate presented was from last year and asked if it was still accurate. Watson said this was the second estimate the company had given him and there was very little difference from the one he received in 2018-19.
Centola said he also noticed that concrete was not included, but she replied that “it is”. She said the quote did not include netting or any additional lighting that might be needed.
“That’s not what he says,” Centola said. “He says the concrete must be provided by the owner.”
She said there were “some clarifications on this.”
Commissioner Mike Chalenburg said the citation “also indicates that the concrete pump is to be owner supplied.” Watson said that was also a clarification.
According to Watson, it is also possible to obtain funding from the United States Tennis Association and the Arkansas Tennis Association. “It would be a very big shift. They won’t officially provide it until the city officially accepts the funding.
She said the money could range from $40,000 to $75,000.
Chairman Chris Howell asked Watson if there had been any conversations with the city regarding those plans. She said “several” times since those plans were “seven years in the making.”
Howell asked if a warranty came with the tennis courts, and Watson said it would come with a one-year warranty.
“I don’t think we’re ready to make a decision on that today,” Howell said. “We appreciate you all bringing this to us. I think we are going to have to get more information and understand that we are a source of funding. You will have to involve the city. They have to approve this project; everything we do, it’s is to approve the funding. I think there is a bit of work to be done here. I would like to see a little more detailed plan.
Watson suggested that the city reps, tennis reps, and pickleball reps sit down and have a chat because right now “that quote is kind of a blank slate of ‘here’s the foundation’.”