By Matt Roy, Independent Newsmedia
Sun City West residents will have much to mull over in the coming weeks as association staff and board members consider a new budget, which may include funds for another high-dollar renovation project.
Recreation Centers of Sun City West General Manager Mike Whiting will host a pair of public forums to discuss the impending budget, as well as another to discuss the proposed resurfacing of tennis courts at the R.H. Johnson Recreation Center, 19803 R.H. Johnson Blvd.
“I think we’ve had a great deal of change in the tennis area. I think this is just the beginning,” stated Mr. Whiting by email.
Preliminary estimates for renewing the 15 courts at the tennis complex run north of $2 million and controversy ignited following announcement of the project at the March 23 regular board meeting. But Mr. Whiting insists the project merits consideration.
“Several communities around us, including Sun City, Sun City Grand, Surprise and Phoenix, have all refurbished or added courts. Renovating the R.H. Johnson complex is vital if we are to stay competitive,” he stated. “Sun City West has recently been rated number one in the state as the best place to retire. If we are to retain that top position we must keep our facilities in top shape.”
At the upcoming public forums, as well as other public board and committee meetings, residents are encouraged to attend and share their thoughts and concerns about the project, he added.
“We are committed to open government. All projects go through a public process. They are discussed in open board meetings, committee meetings and forums. We are aware of some opposition to the project and welcome any and all comments, pro and con,” Mr. Whiting stated.
Opposing the plan, Sun City West resident Dudley Gibson argues RCSCW officials have no business spending millions to redo a facility that he says is barely used.
“I have taken out a petition pursuant to bylaws,” Mr. Gibson said “We are opposed to it because we feel this a excessive expenditure of member funds on a relatively small group of people in the tennis club.”
Mr. Gibson, who previously served on the RCSCW board, administrates the SCW Owner Member Blog, a closed Facebook group with 86 members. He claimed his twice daily visits to the dog park next door confirm his belief the tennis courts are chronically underutilized.
“I observe the courts there every day during most of the year and this time of year prime time is between 7:30 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. and not all of the courts are used during that time. Then after about 11:00 a.m. the courts are usually vacant,” Mr. Gibson said. “And that’s based upon daily observation and general knowledge in the community. If the board is not aware that, then they’re unconscious.”
At the April 6 Properties Committee meeting, RCSCW Recreation Manager Cindy Knowlton presented data to refute Mr. Gibson’s claims. In her PowerPoint presentation, Ms. Knowlton displayed month-by-month data for the tennis complex last year, which showed peak usage of 2801 registered visitors in March and a trough in August, with only 892 visitors logged.
Including the slowest months – June, July, August – the courts still saw an average of 55 users per day. RCSCW General Services Officer Katy O’Grady said declines in utilization – throughout the day and over the year – are typical.
“Most of our amenities have high-usage times and low-usage times. Golf courses see lower use on weekends than week days. Most club rooms see higher use in the mornings during the week than during the evenings and on weekends,” she said.
Ms. Knowlton clarified her data captures only those players who sign the log book at the monitor’s station. However, monitors do not oversee the facility full time and many users do not bother signing in, she suggested.
Pat Melendez, president of the Sun City West Tennis Club, attended the April 6 meeting and said installation of modern lighting at the courts could lead to increased utilization, especially during the summer. Her group has more than 450 active members and is the seventh largest club in the community.
“The use of our courts would change tremendously if we had lighting to see the ball at night,” Ms. Melendez said.
Mr. Gibson expressed his anger at the April 6 meeting and questioned the validity of the data presented.
“Your numbers are calling me a liar,” he yelled.
“No one is calling anyone a liar at this meeting,” Properties Committee Chairman Tim Hurley replied.
Regardless of who or how many use the tennis complex, Mr. Gibson insisted the project is still not needed because the courts look to be in good condition. Though he no longer plays, he said is a former tennis player and has walked the courts recently.
“There’s nothing that I’ve seen. I don’t see any dead spots and we’ve not been presented with any evident that dead spots,” he said.
At the April 6 committee meeting, RCSCW Project Superintendent Larry Griffith presented photos and shared his professional opinion on the matter.
“The attached photo shows court #7, where we had to repair a crack that ran from one side to the other. This is an example of what is taking place under all of the Pro Bounce, some courts worse than others,” Mr. Griffith explained.
The asphalt at the Johnson Facility was replaced nearly 20 years ago and cracks had already appeared within the first year. Staff repaired and maintained the courts and installed a ProBounce surface in 2002 to extend their usefulness. But that surface has outlived its warrantee while underlying asphalt has continued to crumble, Mr. Griffith explained.
Ron Wambach is a regular player at R.H Johnson and Vice President of the Sun City West Tennis Club. He corroborated the superintendent’s assessment.
“The appearance of the courts is good. But if you look closely, you can see where there is deterioration and peeling,” said Mr. Wambach. “The overall paint job looks nice. But now go bounce balls and you will find dead spots and places where there are cracks below the surface and you can feel it when you walk on it.”
The club has voiced concerns about the courts with RCSCW staff for more than four years. If nothing is done, the facility will eventually become unsafe and unusable, he suggested.
“I would say of the 15 courts, there are probably eight that are playable with only an occasional dead spot. The others have numerous dead spots and problems,” he added.
To solve those problems, the proposed renovation would include installation of a six-inch slab of post-tensioned concrete to overlay the existing asphalt courts. The state-of-the-art process creates a slab virtually impervious to the usual wear-and-tear caused by natural heating and cooling and other elements, Mr. Griffith explained.
A post-tensioned slab installed on a court at Palm Ridge Recreation Center seven years ago and has shown no signs of trouble. The product is touted to have a lifespan of more than 30 years, but with proper maintenance could last much longer, he said.
Asked to estimate how long the courts at R.H. Johnson could potentially last, he replied dryly: “Forever.”
Mr. O’Grady said the project is needed not just for tennis players, but for the whole community. Since the facility is owned by RCSCW, the association is responsible to fix it.
“We are committed to maintaining the amenities we have to the Del Webb standard,” she stated. “We will not let our amenities fall into disrepair and have an abandoned amenity that becomes an eyesore. That’s not the image we want and that’s not being responsible stewards of this community.”
Mr. Gibson said he has circulated a peition in the community, garnering more than 500 signatures in the first week. Normally, a project of this size would be decided by a vote of the RCSCW board. But if enough citizens sign on to oppose the project, they board may have to hold an election and let the residents decide.
“The bylaws require that with 1000 signatures, the board has to hold a member meeting on the topic to get the community approval to spend that kind of money,” said Mr. Gibson.