November 23 – NORICH. What is now a dreary concrete slab on Mohegan Road is set to be filled with bouncing tennis balls next summer, when Armstrong’s renovated tennis courts reopen.
Tennis enthusiasts have complained to the city council for years about the dilapidation and closure of the former clay courts across from the city’s Department of Culture and Recreation.
“They’ve grown so big you can practically mow them down,” said Norwich Free Academy sports director Roy Wentworth, a member of the city’s tennis committee. Wentworth recalled going there years ago to watch NFA tennis games as a teacher.
The city council created a tennis committee on February 1, 2020, to assess public interest and “develop ways to secure funding to improve Norwich’s tennis facilities,” the council said in a resolution.
Committee chairman Fred Phelps said the group hoped to get donations from local businesses and tennis enthusiasts. But a month into operations, COVID-19 has plunged businesses and residents into financial uncertainty.
The group has raised more than $19,000, according to Phelps, including two $5,000 individual donations. That money will remain allocated to Armstrong’s tennis courts, Phelps said. But this did not affect the cost of the project, which eventually amounted to $479,779.
Phelps thanked former Norwich recreation director Cheryl Hansin-Preston and former director of social services Leigh-Anne Gomez for protecting the tennis courts when the COVID-19 recovery money came in.
The city allocated $118,866 from the city budget for the project. Norwich then received $28 million in federal grants from the American Plans of Rescue Act with Permitted Use of Camping Recreation. The city provided $360,912 for Armstrong tennis courts.
The committee and representatives from the city’s public works department chose a post-stressed concrete structure, which is more expensive but stronger.
Jean-Paul Laguerre, civil engineer at the Department of Public Works, explained that post-tension construction involves running a network of wires below the surface. After the concrete was poured and set, the wires were stretched to increase the tension in the concrete and make the courts stronger, Laguerre said.
“This helps prevent cracking,” Laguerre said.
Phelps said concrete has a 20-year guarantee after tension, standard concrete typically cracks within four to five years.
The four new courts will open at the end of June or July, but additional funding will be needed to add LED lights and fix the “terrible” dirty parking lot, Phelps said. Laguerre said the city has a $49,000 price offer for lighting.
There was little controversy over the reduction of the original six courts to four new courts. But after the original clay courts were removed and the area re-sown with grass, the City installed a playground in place of the other two courts.
Phelps said the courts could be expanded in the future.
Construction will stop for the winter. The concrete slab is ready and fence posts are being installed around the yards. Painting and sealing should be delayed until spring, Phelps said, as the work would take 60 days at temperatures of at least 50 degrees.
The courts will open too late for the boys’ and girls’ NFA spring tennis season, but Wentworth said he’s excited about the future home of the Wildcats. The NFA did not have a home tennis court during his five years as athletic director.
NFA teams share courts at Norwich Technical School, Jenkins Park on Mechanic Street and John B. Stanton School on the New London Turnpike.
“I’m just grateful that I have something to call our own,” Wentworth said. “I am grateful that there is some movement in this, not just for the NFA, but as a Norwich resident. We love it when our children and adults get more opportunities. Tennis is relatively cheap compared to some other sports. “
Armstrong’s courts will not be open for pickleball, a popular paddleball sport often played on tennis courts.
Norwich Human Services, which oversees both the recreation and nursing center in Rose City, received a grant from the Edward and Mary Lord Foundation to build pickleball courts next to the nursing center, just down the road from the Armstrong Courts.