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Tennis (in December) Anyone?

No bubble, but RA looks into covering tennis courts at Lake Newport.

Reston tennis players looking for a place to play during the winter months may get their wish, if a new proposal, backed by Reston Association staff, is implemented.

Currently, none of the 49 RA tennis courts are covered, but that would change under a proposal unveiled to the board on Monday night. Still in its infant stages, the tennis enclosure plan would cover four of the six existing courts at the Lake Newport tennis facility.

"We've heard a lot about bubbles recently, especially in regards to the Ridge Heights pool," Larry Butler, the RA parks and recreation director, said at the outset of his presentation to the RA board on Monday. "This is not a bubble."

The report by Butler, delivered during the Budget Administration Committee meeting, was the first chance for the entire board to hear the latest proposal for an enclosed tennis facility in Reston.

Plans for similar facilities at Barton Hill and South Lakes High School were derailed in recent years. RA officials are making a concerted effort to involve the community and neighbors as the process moves forward, if it moves forward.

According to the report, which was put together by the RA tennis advisory committee and RA staff, the Lake Newport site is the most logical and most viable of the existing RA owned and operated tennis facilities.

In addition, Butler said the Lake Newport site, with its well lit and well used courts, is largely considered RA's "tennis hub" among the community's tennis players.

The introduction of the proposal was not without its critics. A few neighbors in the audience made it clear they would fight the addition of a steel canopy in their backyard.

"In 1998, we went through this same thing and staff directed RA to find another location," said Michael Kogan, who lives near the existing tennis facility. "Why are we back here again?"

In a sharp rebuke to Kogan, RA president Susan Jones said the two issues were not the same. "It was a different project," she said.

RA officials and committee representatives were quick to point out that Monday's presentation was only an "introduction" to the issue. "This is an evolving issue, and if the board decides to continue along this road, of course we will have ample time for public input and comment," After hearing the report, the administration committee, with the exception of Joe Leighton, voted to authorize staff to further develop the concept of covering four Lake Newport tennis courts. The committee is also expected to solicit public input on the concept.

"We really want to engage the community in this process," said Mary Conaway, chair of the tennis advisory committee. "We really want to hear from the community on this issue."

Jones also wanted to make it clear that Monday's meeting was only the first preliminary step. "First, it has got to go to the board," Jones said. "Then it must go to the community and eventually it will go to a referendum. So by no means is this a fait accompli. The board hasn't even decided to move on, yet."

<b>BUTLER ESTIMATED</b> that the construction cost of the structure to be just over $1 million. After the expenses which are already approved, including a more expensive than expected $96,000 upgrade to the facility's bathrooms, are taken into account, the total approved estimate is $856,883. "The construction estimate was provided upon a bid received for a non-site specific structure," the report said. "However, the construction costs have been revised to reflect the cost of converting the Lake Newport site to accommodate the enclosure."

Currently, three sets of two courts are staggered next to each other. For the enclosure to work, the four courts must be side-by-side.

The report says that covering four tennis courts in Reston is viable if the covered courts are aligned four-in-a-row. Under the preliminary proposal, the Lake Newport site has six courts, four of which would be covered by a steel canopy.

The four courts which would be covered are the four "lower courts," or the courts furthest away from the neighboring cluster of homes, said Jones.

Neighbors were not the only ones to express concern about the yet-to-be formally proposed project.

"My concern is how we pay for it," Bob Poppe, a board member said. "We had one here, but it failed."

Board member Vicky Wingert said she anticipated that, once the public had an opportunity to weigh in on the matter, there would be "a lot of discussion about the old athletic club."

The former RA-owned fitness club was located behind the post office on Sunset Hills Road. Wingert reminded the board that, despite being a 12 month operation, the tennis portion of the club "broke even or made money" while RA owned it.

Burgess Levin, the former co-chair of the tennis advisory committee, agreed that the tennis portion of the club was not the problem. The complex, which included an ice skating rink and a gym, had gotten too big for its own profitability, Levin said. "The rink and the gym were simply not carrying their load. RA had to abandon it."

<b>BUTLER SAID</b>, if the plan is approved, RA would borrow 80 percent of the nearly $900,000 needed to fund the project. Under the proposal, RA would tap into its reserves for the 20 percent down payment.

Because the Lake Newport location is already slated for previously approved capital improvements, it was deemed the most appropriate for an enclosure, Butler told the board. Moreover, the improvements totaling about $180,000, will be spent regardless if four of the six Lake Newport courts are covered, or not.

In 10 years, according to the study, the enclosed facility "can provide $530,000 in revenue to RA, before depreciation." The advisory committee's findings were based on "conservative assumptions" after looking at comparable facilities. For 12 months, the courts would be covered with a steel canopy, that Butler said would last 50 years. Of the six existing Lake Newport courts, four would be completely covered between October and May with a durable cloth tarp with about a 10-year lifespan. It is these seven months in which the facility would be generating revenue through a varied fee schedule. From May to October, the courts would still be covered, but only overhead. Playing on the courts during the summer months would be free.

In 1998, investor and philanthropist Ken Brody wanted to bring a world-class USTA junior training facility to Reston. Brody planned to build the facility, including 17 tennis courts, at Baron Cameron park. In return for the land, Brody was to cover the six Lake Newport courts out of his own pocket. Brody ended up building the center in College Park, Md. "The board, at that time, determined it was too much to give up those baseball fields," Levin said. "They also recognized, however, what a huge disappointment that was to lose six covered courts, free of charge."

Since then, the board has looked at other possible sites, before returning to Lake Newport. Barton Hill neighbors successfully lobbied the board when their tennis courts were mentioned, Levin said. An agreement with South Lakes High School never materialized because the school would have had possession of the courts until 6 each weekday evening. "That's prime time playing hours," Levin said. "That was just not viable."

When Poppe asked Butler if the report was an "advocacy pitch," the parks and recreation director did not hide his enthusiasm for the project. "I would be wrong if I said it was not," Butler said. "As a park and rec professional, yes, I am an advocate of this idea."