I was surprised how many heavy equipment vehicles are required to add a few parking spaces at Valley Forge Elementary School. Passing by the school on Walker Road, you couldn’t miss the mountain of dirt, storm water drainage system and assortment of backhoes and bulldozers. Increasing the size of the VFES parking lot is one of the school district’s summer facilities projects.
While I stopped to take a photo of the parking lot construction, I walked over to the infamous tennis courts. It was nice to see the tennis court door unlocked and available to use. It’s been years since I played tennis, but I couldn’t help but notice how pristine the courts looked – the playing surface well maintained, the lines recently painted and the net in great shape. VFES neighbor Don Detwiler has maintained the tennis courts for years – free of charge.
The VFES tennis courts are available through the summer for residents to use free of charge but the start of school in six weeks will also mark the start of user fees for local tennis players. At the District’s June 14 facilities meeting, discussion of usage fees ranged from a suggested $28K annual association charge to hourly fees of $15/hr. weekdays to $25/hr. weekends.
The rental of the courts for private lessons and tennis camps was established at the June facilities meeting at rate of $30/hr. for one court and $60/hr. for two courts with fees to start immediately. Signage is now on the tennis court fences reflecting those fees. To schedule the use of the courts for lesson or camp, there is a notice to call the District’s business office 8 AM – 4 PM, Monday – Friday. It is completely unclear to me how the District ‘polices’ the use of the courts by instructors — there’s no lock box and the door was ajar. Shouldn’t the details of how the process works be known to the public?
The usage fee for individuals to use the tennis courts will be determined at the August facilities comittee meeting and those fees will presumably begin with the start of school year in September. If the fee schedule for the use of the tennis courts for instruction is determined in the facilities committee meeting, I guess the facilities committee will also determine the usage fee for residents. It’s impossible for many people to go to the monthly facilities meetings as they are held on Friday at 2 PM. I would have expected the usage fees to be discussed at a regular school board meeting. In fact, because the usage fee was not previously discussed at the monthly school board meeting, I thought there was still an option not to charge residents a fee. But based on the signage on the fence, there’s no question that there will be a fee — only question remains as to how much it will cost the residents. Doesn’t it seem odd to anyone else that policy is determined in a committee meeting and then is sanctioned though the use of signage. Shouldn’t the tennis court usage and the fee schedule be available for public disucussion at a regular school board meeting?
I have several questions in regards to the VFES tennis courts — (1) what is the cost basis for determining the District fee schedule (remember, Mr. Detwiler has maintained the courts for free, for years); (2) what is the District’s process for collecting the user fees; (3) how much will the District’s collection process cost; (4) how will the tennis courts be policed; and (5) what is the estimated cost to police the courts.
If the TE School District is going to charge residents for the use of the tennis courts, why not charge them for the use of the school playground equipment on the weekends or for the use of the high school track?
The Valley Forge Elementary School tennis courts are on tonight’s agenda of the TESD. Every time you think that this situation has moved forward, it takes a couple of steps backwards. As a result, it is unclear exactly what is going to come out of tonight’s meeting — will the courts stay or will they go?
At the District Facilities Meeting on Friday, April 12, the committee voted to recommend to the school board that the tennis courts be saved. Having attended the Facilities Meeting, I took that to mean that their recommendation would be discussed at the next regular School Board meeting (tonight). I presumed that the Facilities Committee would first make the recommendation; but then it would be up to the full School Board to ‘act’ on that recommendation.
However, at the same time that the Facilities Meeting was going on, a draft tennis court agreement was sent from the District to the Township. We learned of that proposal at the Board of Supervisors meeting on Monday, April 15 from chair Michelle Kichline. Kichline, with concurrence from Township Solicitor Vince Donohue, suggested legal problems with the proposal … specifically, that the District was asking for stormwater relief from the Township, in exchange for the tennis courts. After all the discussion that has taken place on this topic, it is impossible to understand why the School Board cannot accept that a stormwater-tennis court trade is not legally possible. Why would the School District submit such a proporal to the township that included storm water relief? We were led to believe at the Facilities Committee meeting, that the school district was interested in a reasonable settlement of the tennis courts situation. However, the proposed agreement suggests otherwise. Who wrote this draft agreement … the School District Solicitor Ken Roos?
Beyond the legalities of the proposal, I am struggling to understand how this agreement was sent to the township before the School Board reviewed it. How could the School Board review the draft agreement before the Facilities Committee even sent them their recommendation? Did School Board president Kevin Buraks review the tennis court proposal and authorize its release to the Township? Doesn’t proper procedure count for anything? Where’s the sunshine?
The outcome from the Board of Supervisors meeting was the suggestion for the School District and Township solicitors to prepare the tennis court agreement. Donohue and Roos are left to ‘hash’ out the agreement between the two entities at the taxpayer’s expense. Neither TESD nor Tredyffrin Township can afford the legal expense that has now been created by this situation. With all the talks of cuts in the school district, threats of outsourcing, etc. where’s the fiscal responsibility?
But here we are with the tennis courts on tonight’s School Board agenda. The saga continues …
At today’s Facilities Committee meeting, chair Pete Motel and the other 3 School Board committee members, Jim Bruce, Betsy Fadem and Liz Mercogliano made a 180 degree turn from their former position of demolishing the tennis courts at Valley Forge Elementary School. With a unanimous vote from the Facilities Committee, they will send their recommendation to preserve to the tennis courts to the School Board. Motel explained that their recommendation will include the caveat of a new signed agreement between the District and Tredyffrin Township. The new agreement will be an update to the original 1974 agreement.
Attending the Facilities Committee meeting, Tredyffrin Township supervisor Phil Donahue spoke of support for the District’s decision to save the tennis courts. He suggested a willingness on the part of the township, to work together with the District for a new agreement and that if it was ready by Monday, it would be presented at the Board of Supervisors meeting.
Although Motel mentioned there were “sticky wickets” yet to be worked out re an agreement, I think most of us in the audience were satisfied that the tennis courts will be preserved. The padlocks have been removed and the tennis courts are again available for use. The parking lot expansion plan to add 24 parking spaces will continue this summer (without the demolition of the tennis courts).
Saving the tennis courts from demolition just goes to show what can happen when a few determined people come together for a common cause. Voices do matter … and in this case, it saved the tennis courts.