Calling it “clubby” and restrictive, a member of the Parks & Recreation Commission last week pushed back on a proposal to start charging residents for use of the tennis courts at New Canaan High School.
Commissioner Francesca said the proposed $30 or $35 seasonal pass fee for the hard-surface courts means residents would have no public courts left to play tennis for free, such as Darien residents have in Cherry Lawn Park.
“I don’t like it,” she said during the Commission’s regular meeting, held Jan. 13 via videoconference. “We have to pay for everything. It’s ridiculous. We are not just breaking even, right? Aren’t we making money on paddle [platform tennis]? And the tennis season has been bad because we haven’t gotten the courts together early enough, three years in a row.”
Segalas added, “The thing is, there are residents who come who have their kids visiting them for one weekend, and they want to go play, and they can’t because it’s all a reservation membership system, which is clubby, you know?”
Her comments came in response to a proposal from Recreation Director Steve Benko to sell 400 to 500 seasonal passes for use of the NCHS courts—essentially allowing pass-holders to use an online registration system. The revenue generated will help offset the estimated $16,000 cost of having an attendant on site. Put in place last year, the attendant at NCHS already has been shown as an effective way to ensure residents have a chance to use the town-owned and -maintained courts.
“I don’t have money in the budget to staff the high school courts and I would have to offset the cost of staffing the high school,” Benko said.
“The high school was open season and people were abusing the hour. We had signs, ‘Play up to an hour when people are waiting.’ People were taking two hours, two-and-a-half hours. We had people running lessons there. We had a lot of people who did not live in New Canaan come in and use our courts.”
Last year, nearly 600 residents signed up to use the courts once the registration system was put in place and “they appreciated it,” Benko said.
“I think a small fee is not going to discourage people from playing,” he said.
Benko added, “Having an attendant on duty, being able to make a reservation would make it convenient for residents to play. Before we did that in May, it was open season. I was there and people couldn’t get out on the courts. And I had to go out and say, ‘Sorry, sir, you’ve been here three hours.’ And he’d go, ‘Oh, I’m playing with a different person each time.’ People were waiting to get on. They couldn’t get on the courts. We put a reservation system in and they could use the courts. And they got to play.”
Chair Rona Siegel said that in drawing up a formal proposal for a future vote by the Commission and recommendation to the Board of Selectmen, Benko should add some flexibility for local families whose kids visit sporadically and may want to use the courts without paying a full seasonal pass fee.
Commissioner Carl Mason asked whether those who already pay for a season pass to play tennis at Mead Park would have the ability to play at NCHS under the same pass.
Benko said the town may consider upping the Mead Park tennis pass cost by $10 or $15 for those who also want to be able to play on the high school courts.