VFES tennis courts

TE School Board and VFES Neighbors … A shared vision regarding tennis courts!

Tonight’s Facilities Committee meeting, and the discussion on the Valley Forge Elementary School tennis courts, could best be described as a ‘shared vision’.  That is, a shared vision between the VFES neighbors and the TE School Board.

The primary focus of the meeting was the VFES tennis courts – their usage and maintenance.  Since the last Facilities Committee meeting in June, VFES neighbor Michele Berger had spoken with a number of neighbors, tennis pros, and court maintenance companies and offered her findings to the audience, Facilities Committee and school administration. If you recall, the Facilities Committee decided at their last meeting in June to continue the Tredyffrin Township user fee rate of $30/hr. for one court and $60/hr. for two courts for private lessons and tennis camps.

Although residents enjoyed the use of the VFES tennis courts free of charge this summer, usage fees were expected to begin in September with the start of school.  Tonight the Facilities Committee chair Pete Motel offered a brief history on the tennis courts and then listened to community member’s questions and concerns, offering clarity where appropriate.  VFES neighbor Don Detweiler has maintained the VFES tennis courts for years and offered the opinion that the courts surface and nets have at least 5 more years of use before costly repairs are required.

Board members and community members listened to different viewpoints and discussed potential solutions to long-term maintenance issues … a two-way dialogue with a shared direction.

A satisfying and amiable solution to the tennis court usage was reached; I can report that there will be no charge for residents to use the VFES tennis courts.  The School District will collect user fees from those individuals using the courts ‘for profit’ — such as tennis lessons or tennis camp at a rate of $30/hr per court.  With the start of school, the tennis courts will be locked during the school day.  The tennis courts will be available for resident’s use after school, weekends and on non-school days.  However, it was agreed that the school district’s Safety Committee will review this policy to possibly permit court usage during the school day.

The Facilities Committee meeting represented community conversation and a shared vision.  Pete Motel involved the people in the decisions that affected them – the VFES neighbors. Michele Berger agreed to serve as the liaison between the Facilities Committee and the VFES neighbors. Common ground was found and it was a pleasure to witness; thanks to all involved!

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On a personal note, for those wondering about me and the status of Community Matters, I am OK and so is CM.  I have struggled with some health and personal issues during the last couple of months but I think that the fog has finally begun to lift.  I appreciate your emails and your concern – Wasn’t it Emerson that said, “Life is a journey, not a destination.”  

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TESD Facilities Committee proposes fees for VFES tennis court usage

The monthly TESD Facilities Committee meetings are held at a time that makes it difficult for many to attend – Friday at 2 PM, and the Friday, June 15 attendance proved the point.   Ray Clarke attended the comittee meeting with 3 other residents and provided the his notes for Community Matters.  In addition, I spoke with him for clarification, specifically in regards to the infamous tennis courts at Valley Forge Elementary School.  If you recall, Zoning Hearing Board granted the variance last month so that the District could build the additional parking spots and leave the tennis courts intact.

I had assumed that once the tennis courts at Valley Forge Elementary School received their ‘stay of execution’, residents would continue to enjoy them free of charge.  However, based on Ray’s explanation, it looks like the District views the courts as a revenue source.  According to Ray’s notes, initially the Facilities Committee proposed two options for the tennis courts – an hourly rate for usage ($15-$25) or a flat annual fee of $28K to be paid by an association!  It is unclear what ‘association’ the District had in mind — the neighbors next to VFES?  Looks like tennis court neighbor Michelle Berger temporarily thwarted a PR nightmare for the Board with an agreement that the resident usage fee will not start until the fall.

June 14, Facilities Meeting Committee Notes … from Ray Clarke

Well, an audience of four at the Facilities Committee was treated to a detailed exposition of the process underlying the Infrastructure Plan.  On one hand, we were told the plan took 332 hours of Daley and Jalboot time at the bargain rate of $12,200 (plus $8,000 for mechanical engineering), using annually updated CAD drawings of every building, inspections of every building, meetings with the Maintenance staff, using cost projections updated for 4% annual inflation, etc.  Bbut on the other hand, we were told that we should pay no attention to the fact the resulting cost estimate is over $50 million, and in fact, that to even mention that number is inflammatory and “foolish”!

I wondered about the status of the Infrastructure report.  I was told it was approved in “the May Board meeting”.  I see that the minutes of the 5/13 School Board meeting includes the Facilities Committee report: “Also on the May 13, 2013 consent agenda is the infrastructure report, which is a ten year renewal of the plan”. However, there is no record in the published agenda or in the minutes of the actual item.  The only related item in agenda or minutes is “Daley + Jalboot 2013 Projects/Fee Proposal/Infrastructure Implementation”.  So, is it possible that the Plan was not only put on the Consent Agenda, but also added verbally at the meeting (and not recorded clearly in the minutes), so only those still awake at midnight would be aware of it?

I proposed that the Board and the community might benefit from a detailed discussion of a plan that sets the tone for the next decade’s capital spending – a discussion that might be needed once every 10 or maybe five years.  Perhaps the items could be prioritized — essential to nice-to-have.  Perhaps payback identified for those projects that would reduce costs.  These ideas were met with derision —  the Facilities Committee has managed things just fine for the last ten years, we spend an amount only equal to the auditors’ arithmetical calculation of depreciation, our debt service is constant at $6 million a year, most of the school kitchens are original (although equipment has been renewed), told I didn’t know the difference between capital and operating funds,  etc., etc.   It seems to me that the whole reason that there is such interest in the affairs of the District now is that in fact there really is a “new normal” where funds are not so readily available and trade-offs must be made.  Prudent governance should recognize that.

The discussion of the VFES tennis courts provided further indication that this Board leadership just doesn’t get it.  Two usage fee options were presented: a) fee of $15/hr. weekday, $25/hr. weekend, or b) an annual fee to an “association” of $28,000.  This was to be implemented July 1st.  The courts to be locked and monitored.  Thank goodness, for a sensible and articulate local resident, Michelle Berger, who was persistent and managed to get through to the Committee, suggesting that this approach would be a total PR disaster and that it was better to involve the community to figure out a practical approach than an abrupt implementation of a bureaucratic plan.  Tennis camps and any other organized groups will be charged right away – I think at the $30 per court hour that the township charges.  Fees for residents will start in the fall.

So common sense thankfully prevailed here.  But it’s really unfortunate that the Board has developed such a bunker mentality.  I wish I could offer a solution.  Perhaps the Board candidates will offer realistic commitments for change that we can hold them to.

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