District officials, committee try to find common ground on tennis court facility

District officials want supporters of a new tennis facility to see the progress of a planned four-court project. The supporters want district officials to fully explore expanding the project now and avoiding an uncertain timeline for expansion.

Both sides discussed the issue during an open forum held Thursday, June 23. Dozens of community members attended for an opportunity to ask questions of Platte County R-3 superintendent Dr. Mike Reik and two members of the district’s board of education.

Previously, the Platte County Tennis Court Committee, a grassroots group pushing the project, made a presentation at this month’s board of education meeting. Policy prohibits the board from voting on an item brought from citizen participation, which led to some perceived frustrations.

“(A decision) wasn’t in the cards for us, and I’m not sure everyone in the audience knew that,” Reik said. “A regular board meeting isn’t an open forum format or venue, and there’s really good reason why we don’t allow for that.”

In an occasionally contentious back-and-forth discussion, supporters urged for creativity in coming up with additional funds now to show the tennis court facility project as a priority.

Platte County started its boys and girls tennis programs for the 2008-2009 school year as it moved from the Midland Empire Conference to the Suburban Conference. However, the district has never had true home courts for practice or competition. 

The teams have utilized two dilapidated courts, about 40 years old, outside of the Paxton School, but those were recently demolished to make room for additional parking spaces. The district also pays the Seven Bridges subdivision about $1,000 per year to utilize two courts there. 

Still, the setup requires split practices, and home meets are either played on the road or at Oak Park High School, as nearby school’s facilities are available. 

The four court plan, announced earlier this year, would provide for expanded practice area if the district continues to also utilize the Seven Bridges space. However, the team still could not host full home events this season without at least expanding the project.

“Even having two more, even having six, changes the game completely,” Platte County tennis coach Anna Nutt said. “It would be a great place to practice, but we would still run into those things. It’s not like we’re not appreciative of the four because we are. But to benefit — to really help us to help the program and to make it quality, forget the coaches, quality for the kids — we need six or eight.”

Reik maintains the district wants to build out the eight-court facility, just not in one initial phase.

The district helped secure grant funding totaling about $81,000 for the first phase of a proposed project. In addition, contractors currently on district sites doing other construction work have agreed to provide more than $211,000 in donated work/materials. 

The estimated cost for the first phase of the district’s current project without lights is $447,070.

“I thought that was actually a pretty lofty goal,” Reik said. “I had some real questions as to whether that was going to be achievable, but we had to start somewhere.”

Reik expects another $80,000 in grant funding, leaving the district to spend about $70,000 in non-tax revenue to cover the remainder. To complete the committee’s proposed eight-court project with lighting conduits, the district would need to come up with about $340,000 now to fund.

The district has additional phases planned to finish out the project but no definitive timeline, which concerned some in the audience at the open forum. They postulated that the tennis team waited eight years to see a facility started and felt that could mean another lengthy wait to finish out the eight-court plan.

“I don’t really see this getting kicked down the road very far, but that requires you to have some trust and confidence in people like me,” Reik said. “And that’s up to you whether you want to grant that to me or not.”

Supporters of expanding the project now cited the idea of cutting down on costs by finishing the work in one go.

Reik said normally that approach would be valid. However, he argued that the continued leveraging of additional grant opportunities would help avoid the district’s financial obligation to the project. Other logistical and legal issues included how to bid out the new part of the project, have that approved and have the work finished by the proposed Aug. 31 deadline.

“I would say that it is maybe just a little bit better than impossible to have that eight-court facility done by Aug. 31,” Reik said. “I guess I wouldn’t rule anything out. I’ll remain as agile as I need to be to be able to do whatever I can.”

Onnie Bock-Kunz, a lead spokesperson for the tennis court committee, tried to offer outside-the-box solutions. She suggested an established competitive bid program to speed up the construction process, but Reik questioned the legality of the procedure based on his conversations with legal counsel. She also asked if the $720,000 budgeted parking lot process could be phased in instead, allowing the tennis court project to be finished now and the additional work on the lot to be done later. Reik said the operational advantages of the parking lot made that project more fiscally responsible in a year the district could end up running a minor deficit.

Tennis courts were part of a tax levy proposal which failed in 2012.

In preparation to retry the issue with voters, Reik and the board opted to solve capacity issues in the district first, while exploring other options to fund items like tennis courts. The parking lot funds came from the tax levy proposal passed in 2015 after additional funds became available when priority projects came in under budget.

The next step appears to be a meeting with the Platte City Parks and Recreation board scheduled for Monday, July 11.

Members have expressed an interest in helping to fund the tennis court project with supporters hoping the additional funds added would offer a chance for the district to match a parks commitment to build out the eight courts. District officials did not seem hopeful the matter could be rectified to meet the desired deadline but continued to stress their support for an eight-court facility as soon as funds can be allocated responsibly.

“We totally agree with you — 100 percent,” board member Lenora Miles said. “If we could say, ‘Let’s just write a check; let’s get ’er done,’ all of us are for it. We’re supportive.”

This past school year, 52 athletes participated in tennis when combining the girls season in the fall and the boys season in the spring. Platte County’s girls have won Suburban Conference titles in 2009 and 2012-2015, while the boys won a share of their first this spring.