Taller poles, a bigger budget, but some of the same old concerns: That’s the latest scorecard when it comes to the controversial topic of adding lights to tennis courts near Lawrence High.
City parks and recreation leaders have received an engineering report that details a plan to add lights to the eight tennis courts near the former Centennial Elementary, 2145 La. The report indicates a design change could allow lights to be added to the tennis complex with minimal amounts of light leaking onto nearby residential properties.
“Basically, we’ve learned, yes, we can do it,” said Mark Hecker, the parks and maintenance superintendent for the city’s Parks and Recreation Department. “Now, the question is, should we do it?”
City commissioners likely will decide that issue in the next few weeks. City officials are discussing the latest proposal with both Centennial Neighborhood residents and Lawrence tennis enthusiasts, who have been clamoring for more lighted courts since renovations at LHS removed eight lighted courts in 2009.
The plan does have its challenges. Hecker said engineers are estimating the design would increase the city’s costs to install the lights by about $80,000 to $100,000.
The design also would require a city variance allowing for 70-foot light poles — instead of the maximum 60-foot poles — to be installed. The taller poles, engineers say, would allow for the lights to be shined more directly downward onto the court.
But residents who live near the courts said they’re still not convinced the plan will protect their homes from being impacted by the lights.
“Most of what we have been told will work on paper hasn’t worked in the real world,” said Dan Coleman, who lives across the street from the tennis complex.
Neighbors have lodged several complaints about lighting, drainage and other issues related to a host of athletic field improvements completed at Lawrence High within the last several years.
Now, neighbors are asking the city to look for other options to accommodate the tennis-playing public that wants access to evening courts.
The city had been in discussions with Kansas University to add lights to eight KU courts along Naismith Drive, as long as the university would allow the courts to be open to the public. But Parks and Recreation leaders were told recently KU is going through several planning processes that doesn’t allow the university to commit to the long-term future of the courts.
Neighbors, though, said they want the city to also consider adding lights to the five courts at Free State High, which is more isolated from a residential neighborhood.
But some members of the Lawrence Tennis Association said having only five lighted courts would make it more difficult to run tennis tournaments or conduct weeknight league play. Plus, association members said it seems fair that the city light eight courts, because that is how many were lit prior to the LHS renovations.
“To us it seemed like the deal was that we would get back what we lost,” said Grace Vogel, a board member for the association.
But board members said they’re also sympathetic to the concerns of neighbors and are looking to ensure the city has proper facilities that will allow tennis to continue to grow in popularity.
City Hall leaders haven’t yet set a date for city commissioners to take up the issue, but they’ve indicated it could be on a commission agenda as soon as March 27.