INWOOD — The Parks Department broke ground on a planned renovation of the Inwood Hill Park's tennis and basketball courts last week — but tennis enthusiasts and community leaders are deadlocked over whether they should force the department to reconsider its plan.
On one side, some tennis lovers and city officials back the Parks Department's plan for the 11 courts, nine tennis and two basketball, at the entrance of Inwood Hill Park at Isham Street and Seaman Avenue — which consists of resurfacing and refurbishing them, but leaving the courts in the same configuration as they are now, at a cost of $1.4 million and a nine-month completion process.
On the other side, a separate group of tennis lovers and city officials are pushing the city to reimagine the courts and bring them up to United States Tennis Association (USTA) standards for adult and children players — at a cost of an additional $1.7 million and approximately two and a half additional years of construction.
After consulting with the USTA in September 2011, the Parks Department ruled that bringing the courts to the association's standards was "not feasible given the site constraints" and that the additional cost was out of reach. Crews broke ground Nov. 22.
"Where’re we going to get the money from?" asked City Councilman Robert Jackson, who procured funding for the current plan, during CB12's general meeting last week. "The budget is so bad and there are other parks in my district."
The more complicated second plan would seek to re-orient the courts to minimize shadow and glare from the sun, add two children’s courts and create a buffer between the basketball and tennis courts.
The plan would also call for the removal of at least eight full grown sweet gum trees along the edge of the park’s old-growth forest in order to make way for the courts and remove shadows cast by the trees.
That plan requires a city waiver to remove the trees, and would force officials to revamp the design and go through a city bid process again, according to community officials.
Both sides pleaded their case to Community Board 12, whose vote on the issue last week vote was deadlocked 19-15-4 over a resolution that would ask the department to "suspend its current project for the renovation" in order to implement a plan to bring the courts up to the association’s standards.
Because abstentions count as a vote against a measure, the resolution was essentially tied and thwarted.
"All we’re doing is reconstructing the same broken plan," said CB12 member Zead Ramadan, who argued against the current Parks Department plan. "We’re damning the future of our children. That’s horrible and in bad spirit."
Steve Simon, the Manhattan Parks Division chief of staff and CB12 member, refuted Ramadan's assertion while defending the current plan.
"We’re doing the best we can to afford children opportunities," he said.
Doug Henderson, a longtime Inwood resident and member of the Inwood Hill Park Tennis Association, said he and his group support the current Parks plan.
"The first priority should be the desires of the Inwood tennis community, which has spoken loudly and clearly," said Henderson, who grew up playing tennis in Upper Manhattan and the Bronx and wrote a book about his childhood experience playing tennis in the city.
Henderson added that the department’s plan reflected the needs and wants of the community and the city at large as players come to the courts from all over the area — these needs being restored courts and limited downtime while the courts are being renovated.
But critic Eligio "Leo" Reynoso, a tennis instructor who founded the Washington Heights Tennis Association (WHTA) which consists of a group of tennis instructors and aficionados, said the city’s plan to move forward with construction is "deeply flawed."
He argued that the additional time it would take to create a new plan that meets USTA standards would have long-lasting benefits for the children of Upper Manhattan. He reminded community members that although Inwood-native Irina Falconi, who has gone on to play in the US Open, trained on these courts as a child, her family left Inwood in search of USTA standard courts.
In order to accommodate the request for the courts to meet the association's standards, which include mandating that children play on kiddie courts that are scaled for smaller players, the department is currently working with the USTA to create pavement markings for six of the adult courts so that they can be alternately used by the two children's programs offered on site.
"Pavement markings would enable children to meet the new USTA children/kiddie regulations, but would not prevent adults or teens from using the courts when they aren't being used for children's programs," Phil Abramson, a Parks Department spokesman, wrote in an email.
The idea to renew the courts began in 2008 when the Parks Department first began looking at a plan to repair six of the nine tennis courts.
The department's current plan was given initial support by CB12 in June 2010 and received City Council funding through City Councilman Jackson's office, but was revisited when WHTA members said they might be able to raise funds to reconfigure all of the courts to meet USTA standards.
The group was unable to procure funds from Columbia University or the USTA and the project moved forward, according to a letter from Jackson to CB12 dated Nov. 22.
During that time, a winning contract submitted to the Parks Department came in under budget, and the plan was revised to include all 11 courts, but would not include changes to the courts to bring them to USTA tournament standards.
There are no plans to halt construction, according to the Parks Department.
“We had [CB12’s] affirmative vote from over a year ago which got the process started,” Parks spokesman Abramson wrote in an email, explaining the department's decision to move forward with the plan before receiving the board’s second vote on the matter last week.
For now, the project moves forward in Inwood Hill Park, with the courts cordoned off and large backhoes tearing into the green and white hard courts.
The project is slated for completion in April 2012.