After a lengthy round of applause, a packed room fell silent following a detailed presentation, dozens in attendance at the Thursday, June 16 Platte County R-3 Board of Education meeting wanting to hear about the next step.
There would be no immediate action, but the process to construct an on-campus tennis facility for the district continues — just maybe a little slower than the Platte County Tennis Court Committee hopes. Dr. Onnie Bock-Kunz spoke on behalf of the grassroots group at the meeting, asking the board to consider creating a timeline with an expedited plan to build eight courts by August 31 using district funds.
The district previously announced plans to construct four courts by August 1 in a phased plan to eventually reach eight courts with accompanying amenities. Platte County superintendent Dr. Mike Reik said he supports the push to build the facility but hopes to do so without utilizing tax revenue.
“I think ultimately, we all want the same thing,” Reik said. “It’s just a matter of differing on timelines and where the money comes from exactly.”
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.
In recent years, the district paid 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. Athletes also purchase their own equipment and uniforms.
Dozens of supporters showed up in a display of solidarity for Bock-Kunz’s presentation with the room clearing out after she spoke.
“I really appreciate the opportunity to speak with you guys tonight about tennis courts,” Bock-Kunz said in the presentation. “I am representing the Platte County Tennis Court Committee, which is a large group of individuals who are interested in having an eight-court tennis complex built here on the Platte County R-3 campus.”
In March, Reik revealed the plans to start with a four-court setup that would offer additional practice space and the potential to host varsity-only matches as early as this season.
The initial August 1 target appears ambitious due to the methods being used to fund the project. Some dirt has been moved on the site, south of Siegrist Elementary, but with grant funds and private donations combining with donated labor and materials, the district will rely on contractors performing the work without a truly enforceable timeline.
The committee proposed upping the project to eight courts with conduits installed for lighting to be completed by August 31. A second phase that would include lighting, bleachers and landscaping could be added at a later date.
The board could not vote on the proposal because the committee spoke as a part of the meeting agenda’s public comment portion.
The board could request to put the item on the agenda of a future meeting. With the proposed timeline and complications in how to rebid materials and labor, approving the project and completing construction by the end of August would be extremely challenging.
Reik and members of the committee have held previous discussions leading up to Thursday’s presentation to the board.
“I appreciate your time — lots of discussion and sharing of information,” Reik said. “Ultimately, my only real comments this evening — and I don’t intend on speaking on behalf of the board, but I think we’re fully supportive of developing an eight-court facility. It’s just a matter of timing, the logistics, the time constraints.
“At this point, we’ve been working toward progress, which is four courts, but never have we considered moving forward on this project without having a master plan of eight courts that’s been designed.”
The estimated cost for the first phase of the district’s current project without lights is $447,070. Currently, grants, private donations and donated work/materials totals $293,575, and the district plans to pay for the remainder with existing non-tax revenue with hope of continuing to collect donations and grants to make up the difference. Another $80,000 in grant funding is expected to help account for the initial expenditure.
Reik wants to continue to use non-tax revenue as necessary to fund the project with hopes of using grants and donations in the coming years to pay for the total cost. With the additional grant funding, the remainder needed to complete the eight-court project would be about $270,000.
Future grants would likely be more difficult to obtain if the work is completed all at once.
“It would be my hope that with the progress made this summer and keeping our options open to expanding it to whatever size we are able to and then also looking forward to the future and leveraging additional grants and funding opportunities, I think this master plan will be a reality,” Reik said.
The committee, which circulated a petition to draw support for the cause during the past month, suggested the district pay that cost now. Bock-Kunz cited the donated labor from contractors already with equipment and materials on site due to other construction projects currently underway in the district.
“It would be much more cost effective to build eight courts now rather than later,” Bock-Kunz said.
According to Bock-Kunz, the facility should be a priority because of the advantages for the community. The committee’s presentation suggested the courts support a life-long activity and make the district and city a more desirable place to live.
The committee also noted the potential of economic benefits for the city and school district from the ability to host tournaments, both for the high school and in the summer.
With the addition of four courts, the teams would still need to conduct split practices, although Reik did indicate the district would continue rental at Seven Bridges to help accommodate needs. He said the district does not have a conclusive timeline for the full eight-court construction.
Reik answered a couple of questions from the public following the presentation, but meeting procedures did not allow for full question and answer. However, district officials scheduled an open forum for 7 p.m. Wednesday, June 22 to further address the issue.
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.
The program’s growth occurred despite the lack of facilities, which have led to increased transportation costs and time away from the school for the athletes.
“I just want to say we have a lot of tennis players here it looks like tonight, and your accomplishments are notable,” board president Sharon Sherwood said.
The district previously attempted to fund tennis facilities as part of a failed 2012 tax levy proposal. The inclusion of the court construction and parking lots have often been cited as reasoning behind the ballot initiative not passing. However, Bock-Kunz’s presentation noted that the ballot language did not mention tennis courts, and district survey data showed the inclusion of other projects outside of the building construction were low on the list of reasons patrons voted no.
NOTE: An earlier version of this story incorrectly indicated Platte County added tennis as a sport due to a requirement for joining the Suburban Conference. The school added the sport due to interest.