Fort Greene tennis players may have been taken by surprise if they visited the South Oxford Park tennis courts during the past two weeks. The New York City Department of Parks and Recreation has bulldozed the courts’ surface, the first step in a city-funded project to completely remake the eroding and sinking courts.
For about three years, one of the courts – with a deep indentation about a foot below the rest of the courts – started to collapse, according to Andrew Marshall, the vice chairman of the Friends of South Oxford Park. Parks department officials had placed asphalt on the courts in an attempt to fix them, but holes gradually reopened, the asphalt began to sink and the ground started to erode, according to Dwayne Broadnax, the chairman of the organization.
“They’re really not safe,” Broadnax said. “A person who doesn’t really have any technique or skill on the tennis courts, they could easily fall.”
When the parks department workers arrived at the courts two weeks ago, Broadnax assumed they would work on regular asphalt repairs. Instead, the workers used a tractor to tear out the courts.
“We thought they were only repairing the tennis court that had begun to sink, but it was to our surprise as well that they were repairing the whole tennis courts,” Broadnax said. “We were pushing for them to do something, but they did not give us a heads-up or lead that they were even considering it.”
After workers remove the current courts, they will lay down a new foundation, Broadnax said. Once the foundation is completed and dried, the parks department will place the clay surface on top. Parks Department officials told Broadnax the project would be completed in a week, but it has already exceeded that time frame, he said. The courts are expected to reopen in the spring, according to Meghan Lalor, a parks department spokeswoman. The repairs are funded by a $400,000 grant from Mayor Bloomberg, Lalor said.
Michael Brownstein, the president of the Fort Greene Tennis Association, the group that spearheaded a resurfacing project at Fort Greene Park’s tennis courts during the summer, said he was told by parks officials that $100,000 of the grant is going toward the South Oxford Park project. The Fort Greene Park court resurfacing project, which cost around $60,000, was almost completely funded by contributions from local tennis players, except for a small grant from the United States Tennis Association, according to Brownstein. Those courts had not been completely torn up and rebuilt again since 1994, but Brownstein called the summer’s project a step in the right direction.
“The courts will still need to be rebuilt at some point in the near future,” Brownstein said in May, “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.”
Brownstein wasn’t sure why the city hadn’t funded a complete rebuilding of the Fort Greene Park tennis courts as it had at South Oxford Park – but he said that it was good to see work being done at other neighborhood courts.
“I would love to hear more about it and find out,” Brownstein said. He added that he hopes parks department officials don’t rebuild the South Oxford Park courts in the same footprints as before – with a fence that is too close to the courts and renders gameplay almost impossible.
This marks the largest project the parks department has ever done at South Oxford Park, which local residents built together seven years ago with funding from local elected officials, Broadnax said.
“They’ve done little things,” he said. “We had a lot of trees die, a lot of the evergreens, and they had to come and remove the big trees. It took a long time for them to come and remove other trees, but nothing as big as the tennis courts.”
With the tennis court rebuilding underway, Broadnax is still hoping for more improvements at the park. The parks department already installed infrastructure for a public toilet at the park, but now it needs to be built, he said.
South Oxford Park has also struggled with rat infestation – a problem Broadnax said didn’t exist before the construction of the Barclays Center. Broadnax said Council Member Letitia James suggested he call the city’s health department about the problem so it could do an analysis of the park and determine the levels of infestation, he said.
In the meantime, the tennis court repairs – though unexpected – are wonderful news for Broadnax and Marshall.
“It was a little bit overdue, but very much welcome,” Marshall said.