Reconstructed Norwich tennis courts to open in summer
Norwich ― What now is a drab concrete slab on Mohegan Road should be bustling with bouncing tennis balls next summer, when the reconstructed Armstrong Tennis Courts reopen.
Tennis fans had complained to the City Council for years about the decay and closure of the former clay courts across from the city Recreation Department.
“They got so overgrown, you could practically mow them,” said Norwich Free Academy Athletic Director Roy Wentworth, a member of the city Tennis Ad Hoc Committee. Wentworth recalled going to see NFA tennis matches there as a teacher years ago.
The City Council created the tennis committee Feb. 1, 2020 to gauge public interest and “strategize ways in which to secure funding to improve tennis facilities in Norwich,” the council resolution stated.
Committee chairman Fred Phelps said the group had hoped to secure donations from local businesses and tennis fans. But a month into the effort, COVID-19 plunged businesses and residents into financial uncertainty.
The group raised more than $19,000, including two $5,000 individual donations, Phelps said. That money will remain dedicated to the Armstrong Tennis Courts, Phelps said. But it would not touch the project cost, which ended up totaling $479,779.
Phelps credited former Norwich Recreation Director Cheryl Hancin-Preston and former Human Services Director Lee-Ann Gomes for championing the tennis courts when COVID-19 recovery money arrived.
The city had put $118,866 in the city budget toward the project. Then Norwich received $28 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act grants, with outdoor recreation an allowed use. The city dedicated $360,912 for the Armstrong Tennis Courts.
The committee and city Public Works Department officials selected a post-tension concrete design, more expensive but more durable.
Jean-Paul Laguerre, Public Works Department civil engineer, explained that post-tension construction involved installing a network of wires beneath the surface. Once the concrete was poured and set, the wires were tightened to add tension to the concrete, making the courts stronger, Laguerre said.
“It helps prevent cracks from happening,” Laguerre said.
Phelps said the post-tension concrete is guaranteed for 20 years, standard concrete typically cracks within four to five years.
The four new courts will open in late June or July, but additional funding will be needed to add LED lights and fix the “abysmal” dirt parking lot, Phelps said. Laguerre said the city has a price quote of $49,000 for the lights.
There was a bit of controversy over reducing the original six courts to four new courts. But after the original clay courts were removed and the area seeded with grass, the city installed a playground where the two other courts had been located.
Phelps said the courts could be expanded in the future.
Construction will shut down for the winter. The concrete slab is completed, and fence posts surrounding the courts are being installed. Painting and sealing must wait until spring, as that work will require 60 days of at least 50-degree weather, Phelps said.
The courts will open too late for the spring NFA boys’ and girls’ spring tennis seasons, but Wentworth said he is excited at the future home of the Wildcats. NFA has been without a home tennis court during his five-year tenure as athletic director.
NFA teams share courts at Norwich Technical High School, Jenkins Park on Mechanic Street and at John B. Stanton School on New London Turnpike.
“I’m just grateful to have something to call our own,” Wentworth said. “I’m grateful that there’s some movement on this, not just for NFA but as a resident of Norwich. We like to see more provided for our kids, and adults as well. Tennis is relatively cheap to play compared to some other sports.”
The Armstrong courts will not be open for pickleball, the popular paddle-ball sport that often adapts tennis courts.
Norwich Human Services, which oversees both recreation and Rose City Senior Center, has received a grant from the Edward and Mary Lord Foundation to build pickleball courts near the senior center just down the road from the Armstrong courts.