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Penn Hills residents are serving up support for tennis courts

| Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013, 9:01 p.m.
Patrick Varine | Penn Hills Progress
Above, tennis courts at Universal Park in February 2013. Municipal parks and recreation officials have converted the unusable tennis courts to additional parking now that the park is the permanent home for the Penn Hills Soccer Association.
Patrick Varine | Penn Hills Progress
Above, damaged tennis courts in Universal Park. School district and municipal officials are discussing the possibility of pooling their resources to build new tennis courts in Penn Hills, but new tennis courts were originally included in school-district construction plans.
Penn Hills Progress
Above, tennis courts at Universal Park on Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2013. Municipal parks and recreation officials are looking into re-establishing tennis courts, most likely at Universal. PATRICK VARINE PHOTO

Penn Hills graduate Alicia Carson doesn't understand why building new tennis courts in the municipality is even a question.

“It's an inexpensive sport, and it's fun from age 5 to age 90,” said the 2012 Penn Hills graduate. “I know the courts are expensive, but I think it would be a good investment.”

More than 30 residents agreed with Carson, and showed up to voice their opinions at a Feb. 11 Penn Hills Parks and Recreation meeting, in which director John Scaglione gauged public interest in building new tennis courts in Penn Hills.

One person who would like to see them is school district athletic director John Peterman. Because of new construction over the past four years, the district's tennis team — and six other athletic teams — are bused to their practices. The tennis team practices on rented courts at Boyce Park in Plum, Peterman said.

Scaglione said he and Peterman have talked about the team's needs, but the discussion session Feb. 11 was strictly about the possibility of community tennis courts that would be open to the public.

Resident Judith Pasquarelli, whose son spent four years on the Penn Hills tennis team, said new courts potentially could help both the district and community.

“I know it's not (the municipality's) responsibility to take care of (the school district's) problem, but what you could do is build on what they started,” Pasquarelli said.

Some residents suggested that the district should rebuild courts for its teams. Kiski Area School District upgraded its tennis courts in 2010, according to business director Peggy Gillespie, at a cost of $170,000.

“Right now, we're struggling to field a full boys tennis team,” Peterman said, questioning whether district-built courts would be a worthwhile investment.

Carson, who played three years on the tennis team, certainly seemed to think so, particularly given the high cost of equipment in other district sports.

“You can get a five-dollar racket and play tennis,” she said.

Penn Hills tennis coach Jack Kowalski said he felt new courts would, over time, foster a culture of tennis and ultimately mean regular use by both students and residents.

“What you have to do is start kids young, but if there aren't any courts, you can't get that culture going,” Kowalski said.

In Pittsburgh's Highland Park neighborhood, that culture took root in just five years, after Citiparks officials built new courts in 2007.

“You should see what happened in Highland Park after they built their courts,” said Art DeMateo, who moved to Penn Hills in the 1990s. “It's an entire tennis community out there.”

Scaglione said if the interest is there — parks and recreation will hold at least two more meetings to continue gauging residents' interest — his department will look into a U.S. Tennis Association grant to help fund the project, which more than likely would take place in Universal Park, where there are existing-but-unusable courts.

Scaglione estimated that repairing and renovating the Universal Park courts would cost between $40,000 and $50,000, but noted that was only a rough estimate.

The Penn Hills Parks and Recreation Department will announce the date for the next community meeting.

Patrick Varine is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7845 or pvarine@tribweb.com.

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