Tennis clubs give ‘derelict’ government a serve

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Terry Lennard, left, and Steve Ryan… “We’ve taken a lot of kids through to national ranking but we can’t coach them on these courts properly because the bounce can be so variable,” says Terry. Photo: Danielle Nohra

THE ACT government has been accused of being a “derelict landlord” for not supporting community-run tennis clubs trying to manage major maintenance bills.

North Woden Tennis Club, whose eight courts are riddled with cracks and declining ground cover, is facing major repairs worth about $750,000, says president Terry Lennard.

“We’ve been left behind,” he says. 

Backed by other presidents of the not-for-profit tennis clubs in Canberra, Terry wants the government to help with the major repairs of clubs and, at the same time, develop a sinking fund for them. 

The government-owned but community-run clubs pay the government yearly land rent and rates, and Terry, who says the North Woden club pays about $7000 a year in land rent and rates, wants the government to use these fees paid by all clubs to collectively place them into a sinking fund instead of putting the money into general revenue. 

“I’m agitating for all those rates and land rent that we pay as clubs to not get frittered away on grant programs and be used as a sinking fund,” he says. 

“[And] if the ACT government [can] top that up a little bit, they could actually address the sins of the past fairly quickly and cater for the future fairly quickly.”

Community-run tennis clubs in the ACT were moved to a crown lease system a couple of decades ago, and Ainslie Tennis Club president Steve Ryan, a former head of Property ACT and former director of Territory Planning, wants to know how much money the ACT Treasury put aside at the time. 

“They did put some money aside, but it wasn’t much. Why didn’t they keep topping it up?” he says. 

“If they had, then we might not be sitting here today.” 

Ainslie club, which is 92 years old and the second oldest in Canberra, ran into trouble when it discovered a termite problem. 

“There was nowhere to go at first. Basically we depleted our funds [and] went on a massive fundraising exercise [before we] ultimately got a capital assistance program grant that took us over the line,” Steve says.

“[But] when an emergency occurs, no matter what the emergency is, there should be a sinking fund that you can go to.”

Court cracking and patched synthetic grass at the North Woden Tennis Club. Photos: Danielle Nohra

While Ainslie Tennis Club survived, Steve says its third court is getting ever closer to having to be replaced.

“We’re being told at the moment that we’ll no longer get a grant out of the capital assistance program to do court cover replacements,” he says.

“So, for us, that’s going to be $30,000 to $40,000 to just put a new surface over the top.” 

For North Woden Tennis Club, Terry says it needs to replace all eight courts. 

The club had some support from the ACT government about five years ago after it agreed to foot half of the club’s bill to turn four of the courts from synthetic grass, which is not approved by Tennis Australia, to an acrylic surface, but within 12 months, the courts started to crack. 

“They started to deteriorate because the base wasn’t proper for that type of surface and was never going to hold the surface,” says Terry, who admits the club won’t finish paying off the loan, which they got from Tennis Australia, to match the other half of the costs, in December. 

“We’ve got quotes now to do all eight courts with a proper reinforced concrete base with a slip layer. The quotes already are between $600,000 to $900,000. 

“No community club with our revenues can really afford that, particularly if you don’t own the place.

“If you go and get a bank loan, the reality is they can’t foreclose. They’ve got nothing to foreclose on. As a club we own the improvements and the LED light heads and a few other bits and bobs but they can’t foreclose on that and take it away for a $900,000 loan.” 

Terry says they’ve crowdfunded, got court sponsors and, with some luck, it has allowed them to put in smaller things such as disability ramps, but he says they can’t save enough to solve a $750,000 problem right up front. 

“We’ve got some rank juniors here, and we’ve taken a lot of kids through to national ranking but we can’t coach them on these courts properly because the bounce can be so variable,” says Terry, who’s also worried the cracks on the surface will become a trip hazard. 

“My view is that the ACT government is a derelict landlord because they give nothing back to our facilities.” 

As an affiliated club to Tennis ACT, Terry has attempted to lobby the government through them, but says, after seven years, things just aren’t happening quick enough. 

“Worst-case scenario is that we will be forced to close,” says Terry, who doesn’t want to wait around for that. 

“We rarely hear from the board and I tried to gain their assistance through the process and we still seem to be getting no traction.” 

A majority of the community-run tennis clubs in Canberra pay fees to be affiliated with Tennis ACT, so they have access to their services and competitions, but Terry was disappointed when they accepted money from the government for tennis courts in Gungahlin.

“I think it’s disingenuous to say, we’ll accept this money and forget about the rest. We pay for them to represent us,” he says, of the 12 courts that ACT Labor, in an $8 million election promise, committed to the Gungahlin region. 

“I will never, ever believe that Gungahlin doesn’t deserve tennis courts, they do, build them for them, but it was heartbreaking in a sense that we cater for members and people all over Canberra. 

“We’ll probably lose members as a result of it and so will Steve. We’re stuck in this horrible situation where we can’t provide for our members but there’s more than $8 million going to be sunk over there and so it hasn’t fixed the base problem.”

And, Terry argues that all the government’s doing is setting up the same problem for a new club in 10 years’ time or 20 years’ time. 

Steve says he’s disappointed that they didn’t do a two-pronged approach, which saw them plan for new facilities but also plan to pay for the large maintenance costs of older facilities, too. 

“As well as investing in new areas, the government should set up a sinking fund, which could be managed by ACT Tennis, and that would take care of the maintenance,” he says. 

 

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Danielle Nohra
Danielle Nohra is the assistant editor of "CityNews".

1 COMMENT

  1. We are from the Majura Tennis Club in Dickson and fully agree with this article. We are similarly a not-for-profit club, run exclusively by volunteers, and have courts in desperate need of repair. We rely solely on self-generated income through court hire fees, membership fees and fundraising to run the club without Government financial assistance or support. The cost of rent, rates, and affiliation are difficult enough to cover without the excessive maintenance and resurfacing costs to keep the courts safe and playable.

    We know this problem is experienced by many community clubs, tennis and otherwise. We hope this article highlights the issues being experienced for all affected as well as the opportunities to much-loved community infrastructure that is in badly need of repair.

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