Palmer’s community tennis courts will receive much-needed upgrades over the next two years thanks to the work of two local Rotary clubs and the MatSu Tennis Association.
The Bill Hermann Tennis Courts complex, on the corner of E. Elmwood Street and S. Gulkana Ave. in Palmer, houses three courts used by community members and high school athletes. But the surfaces, cracked from harsh Alaska weather and earthquakes and patched with asphalt tar, are in desperate need of repair.
“We used to joke that we knew if a ball was in or not because the ball would hit the line and the line paint would fly into the air,” said Susan Brunner, the MatSu Tennis Association’s president and founder. “There were no line disputes at that point.”
The court problems were first noticed by a pair of local volunteers as they searched for new community projects for their local Rotary chapters.
Outgoing Palmer Rotary president Rick Allen and outgoing Wasilla Sunrise Rotary president Matt Ketchum both have family members involved in local tennis clubs or teams, and Ketchum worked on the Colony High court resurfacing project in 2019. Tennis court construction isn’t a high-demand specialty in Alaska, so to get the Colony project done Ketchum learned on the fly, worked with the school district to understand what was needed and used his construction company to complete the project within the available $75,000 budget, funding sourced from district money and grants.
Rotary clubs traditionally pick at least one community project each year. Allen zeroed in on the courts for his club during COVID lockdowns. But when he learned how expensive fixing courts can be and the extent of work the Palmer courts need, he reached out to Ketchum and the Wasilla Sunrise club for help.
“I was just thinking about what are some healthy outdoor activities that we can do with other people and still have some socialization and maintain friendships, and it just seemed like tennis was a great, covid safe activity,” he said. “Then I came over to Palmer and there are three courts … but the surface is in really rough shape and it’s been needing repair for a really long time. I had no idea how much this stuff costs.”
Unlike the Colony courts, where Ketchum laid down new surfacing on the old asphalt to keep the project under budget, Palmer’s courts must be completely redone so they don’t crack again, he said. That means ripping out the courts as they stand, grading the area, laying down new asphalt and resurfacing them with acrylic and silica. Added to the new backstop, fencing and other maintenance needed around the courts to provide good water drainage, the project is likely to cost between $175,00 and $200,000, he said.
Ketchum and Allen are working with the City of Palmer, which has oversight of the courts, and have already received approva for the projectl from the city’s parks and recreation advisory board. The next step, they said, is to present the plans to the Palmer City Council. Meanwhile, they are looking for additional sources of funding to bridge the gap between the $25,000 they’ve already raised via Rotary Club donations and Rotary Club International matching. They hope additional donations, grants and some public funding can provide the rest of the needed cash.
Allen, Ketchum and their Rotary clubs are also working closely with the MatSu Tennis Association, which has spent years trying to find support to fix the courts, said Brunner.
“MatSu Tennis has been long advocating for the resurfacing for those courts — we did presentations in front of the Assembly and Borough and we were never able to get any tread on it,” she said. “We’ve wanted those courts redone for a long time and it’s really a necessity, so we’re happy to partner with them.