Opinion: Berkeley must build tennis courts – now! – for the high school

The Berkeley School Board promised 16 years ago to restore the tennis courts at Berkeley High. It is time for the district to keep its promise.

An open letter to the Berkeley School Board:

 It’s time to keep your promise

Sixteen years ago – yes, 16! – the Berkeley school board removed the high school tennis courts at Milvia Street for “temporary” use as staff parking during on-campus construction. The board promised to restore the courts but has not done so. During those years we have seen the following:

  • The boys and girls tennis teams have practiced and played varsity matches a mile away on the worn Hopkins Street courts of King Middle School. These courts are backed by a concrete wall, lack restrooms or water, and are increasingly claimed by after-school tennis programs.
  • Tennis instruction was eliminated as a PE option at Berkeley High.
  • Our teams have, like many distinguished alumni before them, achieved notable success under a series of dedicated volunteer coaches with great parent support, but without home courts that would allow high school students to attend games and root for their teams.
  • Costly new facilities have been built for football, baseball, softball, basketball, swimming and track, but not for tennis.
  • Supporters of BHS tennis have worked patiently and collaboratively with the school district to try to find a solution that would restore tennis courts and maintain parking for staff.

In January of this year, the school board approved a Measure I bond reallocation plan, which included a project to install tennis courts on top of a new parking facility at the Milvia site. This was not the swiftest or the least expensive option, but we supported the school district’s preferred approach under the assumption that the project would finally move forward. Recently we have been informed that rising costs for this and other projects could delay the parking/tennis structure for several more years and may likely require funding from a future bond measure in 2020. This is unacceptable.

While we recognize that the district has other priorities, the promise to restore tennis courts to Berkeley High has been delayed too long. Friends of BHS Tennis submitted a strategic plan to the district last year, which analyzed several alternative sites for courts. Putting tennis courts on a large parking structure was not our preferred alternative, although the Milvia site does have the closest access to the campus. But if the combined parking/tennis project is too costly to build, it makes sense to consider other, less expensive alternatives.

It is time the school board keeps the commitment made long ago and not allow this effort to be delayed any further. The benefits are clear: We have pointed out the current safety hazards for our students playing on courts unfit for competition, the impact of a remote location, and the students’ embarrassment of changing clothes in a storage shed. Restoring the tennis courts would also promote a sport that has lifetime health benefits and provide a community resource that can be available for public use during non-school hours.

This is not the same school board that promised to restore tennis courts 16 years ago, but we ask each of the current board members to honor that pledge. Please make a firm commitment to restore tennis courts for Berkeley High by securing their completion within an expedient timeframe and current bond resources. A discussion item is scheduled for the September 27 board meeting to look at possible sites for tennis courts and to evaluate relative costs, programmatic benefits, and other considerations. We sincerely hope that the board and community can come together to agree on a viable, expeditious solution.

We ask all supporters of the Berkeley High School tennis teams, and those who believe in the value of tennis instruction for our community, to attend the meeting on September 27 and/or write the School Board and express your support. It’s time.

The authors wrote this piece on behalf of Friends of Berkeley High Tennis, an association of several hundred tennis supporters dedicated to restoring courts at Berkeley High.