More than 600 residents have signed a petition against plans to demolish eight tennis courts at Sarasota High School as part of the $26.5 million campus renovation.
Current plans — known as Option 5 — for the high school renovation show that the courts would be demolished to make way for a new bus drop-off loop and stormwater retention area.
Tennis advocates and residents in nearby Alta Vista and Arlington Park who are opposed to the demolition of the courts say the project would remove a one-of-a-kind public asset.
“Those courts have been used by the public for 30-something years,” said Mike Lasche, a community advocate and avid tennis player, who posted the petition online April 15.
Nearby Payne Park has 12 tennis courts, but residents must pay an hourly fee or membership fee to use those.
Lasche said on most afternoons when the weather is nice there will be dozens of residents using the Sarasota High courts and nearby tennis/handball backboards. Regional high school tournaments are also held at the high school’s courts, which were resurfaced about three years ago.
On April 29, Alta Vista Neighborhood Association President Pete Theisen, representing the neighborhood association, sent a letter to the Sarasota County School Board asking the school board to keep the courts in future plans for the high school.
“These facilities have been used by thousands of area residents and are a valuable resource for the public,” the letter reads.
Lasche said he was also concerned about what would happen to the boys and girls tennis teams at Sarasota High School.
There are no replacement courts in current plans for the school’s renovation and no plans designating where the high school’s tennis teams would practice, said Scott Lemke, chief operating officer of the Sarasota County school system.
“The school administration has said that is not an integral part of the instructional program there,” Lemke said.
One possible alternative is for the Sarasota High tennis teams to use nearby city or county parks that have tennis courts, but the school board has not considered a specific plan.
Opponents of the tennis-court removal plan to bring the petition to school board members later this month. The school board is slated to vote on the final contract for the renovation project over the next few months.
The school district held a charrette in June, when attendees chose Option 5 as the plan for the renovation. Both Lasche and Theisen said they were not aware of the public meeting.
“They just went through resurfacing them two or three years ago,” Lasche said. “Now, here they are talking about tearing them down. It doesn’t make sense.”
Theisen said the Alta Vista Neighborhood Association was surprised to hear of the plans to remove the tennis courts.
“The neighbors have no input, and the parents don’t seem to have any input,” Theisen said.
In his April 29 letter, Theisen said the courts should be saved and kept open for public use.
“Some (school) board members might argue that school facilities should not be used by the public, but it is the public who pays for these facilities,” the letter reads. “Bills SB 392 and HB 525 have been proposed in the Florida Legislature that encourage school systems to share their athletic facilities with the public that pays for them.”
Evelyn Herring, a member of the WoW women’s tennis league who signed the petition, said she feels that students should be learning tennis and is worried about what options there would be for the high school teams.
“Where will the team go?” she asked.