Bond project dealing with safety leaves athletes worried about lack of facilities
Children run past the tennis courts Tuesday at Needham Elementary School. Durango School District 9-R plans to remove tennis courts to make more room for parents to pick up their children and access for emergency vehicles. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)
A planned revamp of the Needham Primary School car park and parent pick-up/drop-off area is set to finally take shape this summer. But to adapt to the necessary changes, the tennis courts used by school and community tennis teams must disappear.
The Durango 9-R School District Board heard updates regarding the district’s 4A bond projects at its Jan. 25 meeting. The projects include many plans for building and repairing schools in the district.
Needham’s redesign serves several security-related purposes.
Needham Elementary School was first built in 1951 and has gone through several updates. Tennis courts will be removed to improve drop-off and pick-up locations for students. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)
Cars, buses, cyclists and walkers all pile up outside the school during early morning drop-off and afternoon pick-up times, said Kathy Morris, the school district’s director of safety.
The parking lot is small and traffic to the school has increased over time, so the district’s long-term planning committee began looking for opportunities to improve traffic flow several years ago. The plan for the redesign is to include a clear path for through traffic so vehicles don’t back up or turn around to leave the parking lot.
“I’m the risk manager, I’m the director of safety and security, so my focus is a little different than most,” Morris said. “So I’m really hypersensitive about really making sure our kids get to campus safely and are able to get back off campus safely during these pick up and drop off times.”
Citizens Bond Oversight Committee member Devon Merriman said at the last board meeting that additional space was needed in the parent pick-up/drop-off area to increase traffic flow. Allowing greater traffic flow would reduce the need for students to cross the street to be picked up.
The expanded parking lot would allow vehicles to have better access to the pickup and drop-off traffic loop. It would also provide better access to EMS vehicles. Merriman said that with the current design, firefighters must park in the parking lot and then walk back up to the building.
He said the redesign is already planned to improve traffic flow by adding a stretch of asphalt for through traffic, the redesign opens a convenient window to build a full EMS route along the parking lot.
The street and intersection outside Needham Elementary School is often very congested with pedestrians, cyclists, cars and buses. Needham plans to redevelop its car park this summer. But the tennis courts had to be removed to make way for the expansion of the grounds, much to the chagrin of tennis fans. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)
The loss of courts is a blow to the tennis community
The removal of elementary school tennis courts is bad news for local tennis players, said Daniella Phillis, president of the Durango Community Tennis Association.
“The big impact is that even if people don’t see it or believe it, there is a growing tennis scene in Durango,” she said. “Especially a junior scene.”
This is Phillis’ sixth year as an assistant coach for the women’s team at Durango High School. She said the high school team grew from 25 players when she started coaching to 35 or 40 players in the last half of her tenure.
She fears that the demand for tennis courts will increase even more if there are no courts in Needham. She said there are over 200 active members on the DCTA mailing list, but only a few public tennis courts. Many tennis players also choose to play at similar times, such as early in the morning, to beat the summer heat.
The Durango Community Tennis Association has more than 200 active members on its mailing list, said Daniella Phillis, president of DCTA. Phillis said a big concern for tennis and pickleball players is that fewer courts in town will increase the demand for playing time on other available courts. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)
The DHS and Needham tennis courts are only open for limited times due to neighborhood noise complaints from pickleball matches held on those courts, Phillis said. The gates of the schoolyards remain closed except for the hours between leaving school and nightfall.
Other tennis courts in Durango include two hard courts in the 1200 block of East Third Avenue, two hard courts in the SkyRidge subdivision, and four lighted courts on the Fort Lewis College campus.
Phillis said outside of the city’s limited tennis courts, Needham’s courts represent a large part of the neighborhood’s tennis community.
“Many of them (DCTA members) have learned to play there or ride their bikes there with their children and play as a family, because it is certainly one of the friendliest grounds in the neighborhood,” he said. she declared.
Needham Courts must go
Durango School District Superintendent Karen Cheser said she understands the community’s concerns about the loss of the tennis courts in Needham. But the school district is concerned about the safety of students who pass through the parent pick-up/drop-off area at the same time as passing cars.
An aerial view of Needham Elementary School as shown in the Durango School District 9-R Facilities Master Plan. (Courtesy of Durango 9-R School District)
The School District 9-R Durango Facilities Master Plan includes this mockup of what the planned parking upgrade for the pickup and drop-off area near the tennis courts at Needham Elementary School might look like. However, the tennis court left intact in this model will not survive the redesign planned for this summer. (Courtesy of Durango 9-R School District)
The 2020 Facilities Master Plan identifies the redesign of Needham car park as one of four immediately needed improvements, the others being entrance vestibules secured with bulletproof glass, asphalt and the base of the car park replacement and more cafeteria space for food preparation.
Morris said Needham was built a long time ago (originally built in 1951, according to the master plan, followed by additions and renovations in 1961, 1995 and 2004). The school district must bring the Needham School building and other buildings up to safety code.
“Our #1 goal here is education,” she said. “We are not a prison, we are not regulated by OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration). But we are expected to have a very safe and secure environment.
Cheser said there was no way to expand the parking lot without removing the tennis courts. The community was invited to use the tennis courts, but there were also problems – the tennis courts in Needham were cut.
“We also realize there aren’t enough facilities in our community for tennis and pickleball,” she said. “It was definitely a problem. It sounds like a desire for the community to add more.
Cheser said the question about adding tennis courts is whether it should be a project for the school district, the city of Durango or La Plata County.
Phillis said demand is high for tennis and pickleball courts. But she doesn’t see new courts coming online anytime soon, and any idea of that happening is probably wishful thinking.
“If there was a plan in place to replace them, an active plan with land mapped out and agreed upon, I think I would believe it,” she said.
In an earlier version of this story, Kathy Morris gave an incorrect surname.