As a boys’ tennis coach at Ottumwa High School, Mark Hanson has visited many different towns across the state for meetings, and he usually returns with the same discouragement.
“I walk away from these places, shaking my head. I’m like ‘Wow’,” he told Ottumwa city council at the first meeting of the year on Tuesday at town hall. “And I’m taking my kids back to Ottumwa to train on those courts and play our matches on those courts.”
Hanson, along with other officials from the Ottumwa Community School District and Friends of Ottumwa Parks, lamented the deteriorating conditions of the Dan Staggs Courts in Ottumwa Park. They made a presentation to the council on the status of the courts, which have become a safety hazard and did not allow OHS to host one of its biggest meet or playoff events. Some courts have cracks the width of a shoe.
Due to pitch conditions, Ottumwa now has to play his home games at the country club, and his invitational boys are now played at Fairfield due to safety concerns. Tennis has become a growing sport, said Hanson, with around 80 children representing the boys and girls teams.
Following the presentation, the School District and Friends of Ottumwa Parks asked the city to consider donating $ 750,000 of US bailout funding to match the same amount the school district is ready to offer to cover the bulk of an estimated $ 2 million project. . The scope would include 12 new courts, complemented by new fences, netting, windshields, ADA toilets and a concession area.
The remainder of the spending, some $ 600,000, would be made through fundraisers and potential grants, said Blaire Siems, the Friends of Ottumwa’s Parks fundraising chair, who was optimistic there was enough interest to raise the rest of the funds.
“I am confident that the city will see a return on investment from the increased capacity to host tournaments,” she said. “Right now we can’t host tournaments as big as the Babe Ruth World Series for tennis. But if we can build a state-of-the-art facility, it will hopefully allow us to do just that.”
Council member Russ Hull was curious about the court schedule, and the groups said the goal was to start construction this fall and complete it by spring 2023.
There are currently six courts that make up the Dan Staggs Courts, and four more adjacent to the Bridge View Center, all in the same state of deterioration. They weren’t built properly, said Bob Kramer, president of the parks organization, reading an email chain between himself and the late Staggs’ son, Jeff.
“They built them poorly at first and dad accepted them but was disappointed,” Kramer said, reading a response from Jeff Staggs.
Kramer said the United States Tennis Association recommends four to eight inches of asphalt for building new courts, while current courts are only two to three inches. Harsh weather conditions in the Midwest played a significant role in the deterioration of the courts.
“That’s why they crack so easily, and that’s a danger,” Kramer said.
Ottumwa supervised Michael McGrory relied on feedback from Kramer and Hanson, ensuring the new courts will be built the right way.
“It’s a collaboration we can do with the city. It’s a big need not only for the neighborhood, but for the community. That’s what’s really exciting for me,” he said. “These will be built to be very low maintenance, and that’s a huge advantage because they will last a long time.
“As a district, we need to do better for our kids in tennis,” McGrory said. “The country club has been a blessing for us as it gives us a little option to host some events, but not a lot.”
The city is already doing a design study to see how best to use its park, and new tennis courts are part of that plan. However, until there is more guidance given on the location of courts and other equipment in parks, the location is still pending, city administrator Philip Rath said.
“The group (has been) open to see where this study takes us,” he said. “So as soon as the plan and the location are finalized, we would be ready to make offers and have them built within that time frame, if that is the desire of the city.”
Hanson encouraged the city to support the project, not only for his team, but also as an engine of economic development.
“Our kids deserve whatever the Johnston kids get, the kids in Waukee, Iowa City West or Burlington for Fairfield. Damn, even when Bloomfield has it,” he said.
“We have to do something this time around. We are really doing it,” said Hanson. “It’s our time.”