BY GREG AND ANDREA CUNNINGHAM
Board of Directors
Los Alamos Tennis Club
Los Alamos Pickleball Club
The proposed new complex of 8 tennis courts at Overlook Park, which the Parks and Rec Board recently voted to deliver to County Council for their consideration, may cause some citizens to have questions, like ‘why now?’ or ‘why do we need more tennis courts?’ or ‘what about pickleball?’ or ‘why is Overlook Park the right place?’’. Hopefully this letter can answer those questions and provide some background to explain the proposal. We are blessed to have a variety of sporting activities in town and engaged community members who participate in them. Many tennis and pickleball players routinely support others in the community in their efforts to improve recreational opportunities in town, and we’re asking the rest of the community to support us now.
Generally, our community tennis courts were built over 50 years ago when play was focused on getting folks together for friendly games in their neighborhood. However, as times changed and organized play (leagues, high school teams, etc.) required more courts in the same location, this project was proposed to Council over 15 years ago. Starting in 2008, a proposal was submitted for a Capital Improvement Project (CIP) to build additional courts at Mesa Courts (behind the football stadium) or Urban Park. Both of those options were rejected by the neighborhoods and in 2010 another CIP proposal was put forward to build a new complex at the golf course. This proposal failed as the golf course did not want to devote their land to tennis. In 2016, the idea of a tennis complex was put forward again by Council as recreation was extensively discussed and monies were set aside for analysis. The County and Schools were working together in this project as the high school team would be using the facility as well.
While the project has been addressed at various times since 2016, it has perpetually been on the back burner these past 8 years. In the meantime, maintenance on the courts was deferred while waiting for decisions on a new tennis complex, although resurfacing was supposed to be done every 5 years. With the exception of Urban Park (which had been resurfaced in the last 5 years and has started cracking again), most of the current neighborhood courts are in serious disrepair, with numerous cracks, craters and chips marring the surfaces.
In the spring of 2022, the project came forward again for consideration. A study on location and project cost was performed with a final recommendation made by the Parks and Recreation board to be delivered to County Council for consideration. In a nutshell, this project has been over 15 years in the making with hundreds of community members giving input throughout the years.
Why do we need more tennis courts?
Tennis has evolved into organized team play and a larger number of courts is required in one location to accommodate matches and tournaments. First, the high school program is required by NMAA (New Mexico Athletic Association-interscholastic governing body) to have 8 courts in one location to host their District Tournament. Los Alamos only has a maximum of 4 courts in one location (4 at Urban Park and 4 at Mesa, behind Sullivan field). Again, due to logistical issues, NMAA mandates the courts to be co-located, they do not allow going back and forth to two different locations. The last time Los Alamos has hosted was 10 years ago, when they ‘borrowed’ a high school in Santa Fe to use their tennis courts.
Think about it, our ‘home’ tournament was held an hour away at a rival school because we didn’t have the facilities. As far as we are aware, tennis is the only sport that needs to ‘borrow’ another school to host, please imagine if our football team had to ‘borrow’ a stadium to play.
Second, adult competitive tennis, which also has a long and successful history in Los Alamos as part of the United States Tennis Association (USTA), requires 5 courts to hold a team match. Because we only have 4 courts in one location, one of us must drive an out-of-town competitor to another court for the fifth match. There is no other facility in northern New Mexico (private or public) where teams have to do this for a USTA match. Los Alamos has fielded USTA teams in the 18-and-over and 40-and-over categories, for men’s, women’s and mixed doubles, at multiple ‘levels’ of competition and these leagues run through most of the year, except for December-January.
Because most of the courts in Los Alamos were built in the 1950’s on poor foundations, without the benefit of ‘post-tensioned surfaces’ which can allow a court to go 10 years or more without needing to be resurfaced, our existing courts require much-too-frequent resurfacing. In Los Alamos, especially due to deferred maintenance, virtually every court still has cracks, which develop only a few years after resurfacing. The poor condition of the courts is again unique to Los Alamos and can only be remedied with new courts that utilize modern construction principles. Furthermore, the existing facilities in Los Alamos do not have fence separators between courts, year-round windscreens, shaded player seating, or a facility to host guests, which almost every other facility (public and private) in northern New Mexico has.
What about Pickleball?
Pickleball has been reported in national news as the fastest growing sport in the country for two years running. Most municipalities already recognized this public need and have built dedicated indoor and outdoor pickleball facilities. Some have already doubled their initial investment and built a second facility due to the tremendous success of their first year.
Pickleball exists now in Los Alamos because of shared use of facilities. Presently, the pickle-ballers must temporarily tape their lines and use temporary nets every time they want to play. Continued shared use of facilities is not a reasonable long-term solution due to the differences in lines, nets and space considerations. Currently there are no dedicated pickleball facilities in Los Alamos nor provisions for pickleball in the CIP plans for outdoor courts or shared gymnasiums.
The Los Alamos Tennis Club is working cooperatively with the emerging Los Alamos Pickleball Club discussing this project and both parties enjoy playing both sports! This is the perfect time for an investment into new tournament quality tennis courts which would allow existing multiple tennis court groupings to be reasonably repurposed for tournament quality pickleball. A new tennis complex will allow selected existing courts in White Rock and Los Alamos to be renovated and dedicated to pickleball, which because of the smaller size of the pickleball court, three tennis courts at Pinon would make eight pickleball courts and the two tennis courts are now at North Mesa can accommodate six pickleball courts. These new tennis courts and existing court conversions could reasonably create tournament quality and adequate recreational play opportunities for both tennis and pickleball players.
Why is Overlook Park the right place?
As pointed out earlier, the initial idea of adding courts to either the Mesa or Urban Park courts was rejected by those neighborhoods in 2008 and again in 2016. This past Spring there was a joint session of LAPS and County Council to discuss a ‘tournament quality’ facility to be located at either Mesa, North Mesa, Overlook or Urban, but that discussion quickly ruled out the Mesa and Urban courts due to historic objections by those neighborhoods. Overlook and North Mesa were then the only sites considered for development. Overlook was chosen primarily because it affords a milder climate than Los Alamos. The milder climate extends the useful playing/practice season, which starts in February and ends in November for both the schools and USTA. Many players have shoveled snow off of the Urban tennis courts so the teams can practice, as the first matches of the season are in February. Overlook Park has higher temperatures and lower precipitation, as well as much less wind than North Mesa.
As this project (hopefully) moves forward, the tennis community asks for support from the Parks and Recreation Board, the Council and the community as a whole. During Covid times, one of the few sports that was sanctioned by the CDC was tennis, and the courts were generally filled with families, past players and new ones, out for some fun and exercise. If you are interested in participating in either tennis or pickleball or have additional questions about the proposed new tennis complex, please email firstname.lastname@example.org for tennis, or for pickleball at pickleballbrackets.com (and search for Los Alamos to register).
** The Los Alamos Tennis and Pickleball Clubs are loosely organized groups of volunteer coordinators and players, with no affiliation to Los Alamos County or to a physical location.