The sound of bouncing tennis balls will be back in Fort Greene Park on Sunday afternoon when the Fort Greene Tennis Association will hold the first groundstroke game tournament of the season at 1 p.m. The tournament comes after a month of resurfacing – filling in cracks and fissures that have gradually developed over the last 19 years – at park tennis courts. Members of the Fort Greene Tennis Association, the group spearheading the project, hope the resurfacing will limit tripping hazards on the courts and make playing a tennis match easier.
The repairs, which have cost around $60,000, are almost completely funded by contributions from local tennis players, except for a small grant from the United States Tennis Association, according to Michael Brownstein, the president of the Fort Greene Tennis Association. Brownstein said the six courts have not been completely taken down and built up again since 1994. While this project is not an absolute overhaul, it’s a step in the right direction, he added.
“The courts will still need to be rebuilt at some point in the near future,” Brownstein said, “and the goal is to sort of leverage our success from doing this repair to motivate the city to pay for the courts to be rebuilt at some point.”
A complete rebuilding would entail digging up the current courts and reconstructing the foundation with new fences and a new playing surface, Brownstein said. If the city funds the rebuilding it could cost about $1 million, he added, because the city would have to take bids from a predetermined selection of union contractors. Privately funding the project – like the current court resurfacing – could bring in a contractor who could do the work for $250,000, Brownstein said.
The recent resurfacing is a multi-step project that has faced delays because of rain and cold weather. From April 27 to 28, volunteers from the neighborhood power-washed the courts and cleaned out the cracks – some only a few inches long and others a few feet, most of them less than an inch wide. They then filled the cracks with a mixture of silica and acrylic resurfacer and ground the surface of the courts smooth. Once the volunteers finished, Oval Tennis, a private contractor based in Somers, N.Y., began its work: Flooding the courts to find any depressions that were more than a quarter of an inch deep, filling those depressions to level, repairing the cracks with an 18-inch wide heavy-duty fabric called Armor Crack Repair and then covering the courts with a paint primer.
The contractor is in the final painting stages now and has already placed one layer of a specialized acrylic paint – the same paint used at the U.S. Open – over about three-quarters of the courts. Now, the contractor must finish the first layer and paint a second layer, according to Brownstein, a process that is expected to take about 2 and a half days.
Resurfacing was necessary because many locals found that the courts’ condition severely disrupted tennis matches.
“Just being able to navigate the ball was nearly impossible,” said Elliott Frank, a certified tennis instructor who has been teaching at the courts since 1994. “When it hits the courts, it may jump over your head. The conditions are deplorable.”
Over the years, he found that nothing was being done to improve the courts’ condition and that repairs were “at the low end of the totem pole” for the city.
Facing severe budget cuts, the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation lacks the budget to fund repairs to the tennis courts, Brownstein said. The department’s expense budget dropped from $382 million in 2008 to $371 million in 2012 and its capital budget, which funds large-scale projects, is expected to be cut from $841 million in 2012 to $332 million in 2013. Department officials suggested the community take matters into its own hands – a measure that could get the work done more quickly and effectively – according to Charles Jarden, chairman of the Fort Greene Park Conservancy.
“The community has watched a lot of changes in the neighborhood, watched a lot of restaurants coming in, and the park has had to change along with that,” Jarden said. “The rate of all the high rises coming in, the demand on all these services, including the park, is growing really rapidly and there’s no way the city can keep up with that – delivering better park services. That’s where it’s really important for these groups to stand up. We can in fact make change happen by organizing ourselves, working closely with our elected officials on the state level and city level.”
The Fort Greene Tennis Association only required a parks department permit to perform work on park property before it could begin resurfacing work. But the park lacks organizations like this to handle other capital improvements, according to Jarden.
“Everybody knows the drainage problem is the next big picket item, but there’s not a central group making sure this gets put in a central scope,” he said.
Another project – renovations to the park’s Willoughby Avenue entrance – has been delayed for nearly five years because of a lack of parks department funds.
As for the courts, no one has committed the money needed for a complete rebuilding – but Council Member Letitia James did invite the tennis association to apply for a small amount of discretionary funds next year that could be used for additional repairs, Brownstein said.
Brownstein considers this resurfacing project a springboard for larger court improvements.
“It was a community-driven effort, and it was really nothing but concerned users of the park who wanted to make this part of the park better,” Brownstein said. “Part of the idea here is to fix them up to show the local government that we really care about this part of the courts. We will continue to be in touch with the local officials to do anything they can.”
Charles McMikens, a Tennis Association member and the owner of the General Greene and Heritage Wines, thinks the court resurfacing symbolizes the role more locals should play in their community.
“It’s a message less for city officials than for neighbors at large, to take it as a responsibility,” McMikens said. “It’s part of a civic obligation [for us] as members of the community. Giving money will hopefully inspire others in the neighborhood to try to do their part, big or small.”
Editor’s note: This post has been updated to correct the time of the Sunday tennis tournament to 1 p.m., not 11 a.m.