When tennis players begin to complain about court conditions, it's time to give the courts a check-up. A walk-through can reveal problems such as cracks, weeds, puddles and stains. After some quick research on the Internet, you realize you have more questions than answers. Should you repair and resurface the courts? Reconstruct them? Try something new?
Another issue to add to the confusion is that there’s a bottom line to worry about. Work on tennis courts varies widely in cost, depending on what's being done. So how do you know what to do about the problems?
First, get the right decision-making help, says Jerry Gray of Leslie Coatings Inc., in Indianapolis, Ind. A facility may obviously need some level of repair, but determining which level takes a specialist.
“Assessing a tennis court properly should be done by a professional tennis-court contractor, not just a person in the asphalt industry,” Gray notes.
“A complete knowledge of all of the conditions and remedies is required. It is important that you get an individual who has the courage to tell you what you need to know, even if it means there would be no work in it for him. There is nothing more difficult than trying to explain to your board of directors why they spent public money on something that did not work. It is better sometimes to wait until you get the proper funds to do something right rather than putting a Band-Aid on a problem.”
Fred Kolkmann of Fred Kolkmann Tennis & Sport Surfaces LLC, in Grafton, Wis., says a parks director should hire a consultant to do a detailed study of the facility, known as a facility-assessment.
“The information it will give them along with the budgets it should provide will be invaluable information for them and their boards. These assessments should include all the various repair options and the construction costs, as well as expected maintenance costs over the next 20 years. This provides valuable life-cycle costs that should prevent them from purchasing a repair system that will cost them an arm and a leg to maintain.”
Once you have professional assistance on your side and a recommendation in hand, it's time to learn more about the different terms used in the tennis-court construction world.
The following are the general rules by which contractors classify tennis-court work; they are presented here from what is generally the least to the most expensive; however, keep in mind that what may be suitable for one court may not work on another in the same area, given the installation, use and more.
Repair And Resurfacing
This is the first level of addressing tennis-court problems. Repair, the first phase, targets specific areas, such as cracks.
Tennis-court contractors have various methods of repairing cracks, and use tennis court-specific products, rather than the type of materials used to patch other types of pavement, such as driveways. Others have proprietary systems that may be more involved and, hence, more of an investment.
Note that cracking in a court is a symptom of another problem under the court itself, and that repairing certain types of cracking may be ineffective. Tennis-court contractors can make recommendations as to whether a simple repair is in the park system's best interest.
“Cracks can be fixed, but not when they are heaved,” says Dan Clapp of Armor Crack Repair System in Farmingdale, N.J.
“When there is too much cracking, though -- such as over 500 linear feet per court -- it's not efficient to do crack repair. If the court has improper slope -- being too flat or too severely sloped, or if there's uneven planarity, with an extremely wavy surface -- you're looking at reconstruction.”
Resurfacing, the next phase, replaces the entire court surface, but without significantly reconstructing the base of the court. In short, it makes the court look new again without actually rebuilding it from the ground up.
“My definition of repair and resurfacing would apply to tennis courts that are within what the industry would consider a typical maintenance cycle,” says Gray.
“This would include cleaning of an existing surface, a reapplication of color material because the old surface was worn, filling and repairing of minor cracks to retard water penetration to the subsurface, leveling minor low spots where water stands, replacing tennis equipment and posts, and perhaps retying loose segments of fence. This type of work usually takes place between the 5th and 15th year in the life of a tennis court."
This becomes necessary when the tennis court is failing and is unsafe, or well on its way to becoming unsafe. This may include heaving of the surface, and severe cracking that endangers players and affects the outcome of the game.
Other signs to look for include net or post foundations lifting out of the ground and loose stones appearing on the surface. These are far from the only signs, but are some to watch for.
Reconstruction of a court can vary between complete demolition, redesign and rebuilding, or it may require another solution on the market, such as an overlaying pavement design or other forms of adding a new surface. There is a wide range of membranes, overlay products and other designs on the market; many may be suitable for rec-and-park installations.
Those who are wavering between resurfacing and reconstruction should be aware that resurfacing -- while a good option -- may be only a temporary fix, depending upon the problems that are present in the surface.
“When considering resurfacing an existing court, I make the owners aware that when an existing court has cracks, the cracks will always reflect through the new pavement within a few years,” says Mike Vinton of Vasco Sports Contractors in Massillon, Ohio.
“The owner needs to know that these cracks always reappear. If the owner has a major concern or disappointment about surface cracking, a resurface job should never be considered. The only construction remedy to eliminate cracks is to remove the existing pavement and rebuild the site. Also, when a court is resurfaced, the slope and planarity cannot be corrected by much more than one inch. If the court is not at a correct grade, resurfacing can't do much to help it.”
Keep Up With Upkeep
Something too often overlooked, according to contractors, is regular maintenance. Even hard courts need to be kept clean and free of debris, which can stain or be ground into the surface.
“Maintenance to be considered is removal of leaves from the court and any other work needed to ensure that there is positive drainage away from the court,” says Herb Osburn of Tennis Courts Inc. in Aylett, Va.
Regular maintenance -- anything as simple as using a leaf blower to remove debris from the court, or making sure gates don't drag across the surface of the court -- help the surface last longer.
Evaluation Of Resources
Maybe you're still not sure how to commit to tennis-court fixes. In that case, says Alex Levitsky of Global Sports & Tennis Design LLC in Fair Haven, N.J., it's time to do the math.
“The short answer of when to do one or the other form of work is to use a cost/benefit analysis,” says Levitsky. “When is it more affordable to do reconstruction than repair or resurfacing? When the cost of repair and resurfacing exceeds the cost of reconstruction, it is probably time to rebuild.”
Levitsky says that the yardstick for determining the condition of a court can vary widely, so that “the challenge to doing an analysis is defining and setting an appropriate court-surface quality standard. For example, at the U.S. Open, the surface has to be perfect every August/September. That's an extreme of what I would call the ‘High Standard.’ For a few of the less-affluent municipalities, maintaining courts that aren’t dangerous to be on is the ‘Practical Standard.’ Then there's the other extreme, the ‘Minimum Standard.’ In most cases, the standard is some place in between. In the worst cases, no standard is set at all, and the courts vary from new and very good to old and very bad, constantly exposing that municipality to potential lawsuits.”
No matter which level of repair is required, and no matter which standard an organization adheres to in terms of surface quality, the most important thing a director can do is stay informed. There isn't a right answer for everyone, but there may be a right answer for the given project at the time of decision-making.
“Over the past few years of very difficult budget challenges for municipalities, I have found that most of the public parks facilities managers are interested in getting thorough information on any and all options available,” says Lee Murray of Competition Athletic Surfaces in Chattanooga, Tenn.
“From the most basic repairs to full reconstruction, these folks know there are many factors beyond their control that play into the decision to spend, or not spend, money on their tennis surfaces, and they are most interested in passing on all information possible to the ultimate decision-makers.”
Note: The American Sports Builders Association (ASBA) is a non-profit association helping designers, builders, owners, operators and users understand quality sports-facility construction. The ASBA sponsors informative meetings and publishes newsletters, books and technical construction guidelines for athletic facilities, including athletic fields. Available at no charge is a listing of all publications offered by the Association, as well as the ASBA’s Membership Directory. Info: 866-501-ASBA (2722) or www.sportsbuilders.org .
Mary Helen Sprecher has been a technical writer for more than 20 years with the American Sports Builders Association. She has written on various topics related to sports-facility design, construction and supply, as well as sports medicine, education, health and industrial issues. She is an avid racquetball and squash player, and is a full-time newspaper reporter in Baltimore, Md.
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Publications: Tennis Courts: A Construction and Maintenance Manual, Sixth Edition, co-written by the ASBA and USTA, is available for $44.95 per copy, hard copy or download. Contact ASBA at 866-501-ASBA (2722), or at www.sportsbuilders.org .
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How to build: Looking for information about resources for building a facility in your community? Log on to the USTA's website, www.usta.com, and use on the "Facilities" toolbar. Get free technical support from staff experts, assistance on facility planning, diagrams of court layouts, information on advocacy initiatives and more.