Twice this month, Hilton Head Island Mayor David Bennett and his family stopped by the only public tennis courts on the south end of the island and filled several gallon-sized bags with trash.
Bennett said he also noticed other problems, including broken fencing and cracks in surfaces of the four courts that are located just inside the entrance to Cordillo Courts II and The Hedges, two low-income neighborhoods off Cordillo Parkway.
Bennett said the poor condition of the town-owned courts is evidence they’re poorly maintained compared to the other public facilities on the island. The town recently took notice too, deciding last week it would take over the cleaning and maintenance of the courts from Island Recreation Association, which it previously paid to handle all upkeep within the fence, said town manager Steve Riley.
“It’s clear to me that there’s a breakdown in the town following through in maintaining those courts to acceptable standards,” Bennett said last week, just after the town announced the change. “It is frustrating, but what’s probably more frustrating is for the people who live there who are citizens and members of our community who have been living with that daily.”
Though the town will not be providing additional maintenance, Riley said the courts will benefit from being cleaned by one group of staff, not two.
“We’re hoping that with one group, we can kind of grab everything at once and not say, ‘That’s somebody else’s issue,’” Riley said.
The change followed questions from the Island Packet and Beaufort Gazette about the conditions of the courts, which are surrounded by broken, torn chain-link fence and are in need of rebuilding from the ground up.
In the last five years, the town only paid Island Rec about $15,525 to clean the Cordillo Courts facility, according to executive director Frank Soule. Island Rec staff were aware it needed capital improvements, but did not have permission from the town to make them, Soule said.
Over the same period of time, the town spent $20,888 to clean the tennis facility at Chaplin Park, which also has a public restroom and other amenities, and another $32,810 for windscreen and tennis net replacements, resurfacing of four courts and a new shade structure.
The Cordillo facility, meanwhile, is marked by several portions of broken fence — torn wide enough to let kids bike and skateboard onto the courts — and a faded, cracked surface where the town has been “patching the unpatchable,” Riley said.
Liz Merrill, of the Neighborhood Outreach Connection, has stronger words to describe the tennis courts.
“It’s a complete eyesore,” said Merrill, who started Change.org petition asking Bennett and the town to turn the courts into a park for the 180 children who live in nearby Cordillo Courts II, The Hedges and Wood Haven. Many of them come from poor, working-class families who don’t have access to transportation to reach other public parks on the island, Merrill said.
“We just want to see the town do something about it because they’re quick to do things for the areas where people have a lot more money, or ... more voting power,” said Merrill, office manager of Neighborhood Outreach Connection, which tutors area children inside their communities. “We just want to see them do things for these people too.”
On Monday, Riley said he will not direct any improvements unless Hilton Head Island Town Council votes to reject a proposal to sell the property to the regimes that control Cordillo Courts II and The Hedges.
If the deal goes through, the regimes would leave the land as open space and possibly add park features like picnic tables, grills and soccer nets, said Greg Wynn, president of the regimes’ property management company, G.W. Services.
“The kids play out there (now), but it’s really not a great environment for children,” Wynn said. “Kids need a place to run around.”
A proposal to sell the courts to the regimes will go before Town Council on April 5, Riley said.
“If we’re going to hold on to it for a longer period of time, we’ll have to rethink what we do there,” he said. “But in the short term, the hope would be to move on and tear it down.”
They’re valuable members of our local community but they don’t have a voice and we want to ensure they get their fair share.
Narendra Sharma, chairman of Neighborhood Outreach Connection’s board of directors
Narendra Sharma, chairman of the non-profit Neighborhood Outreach Connection’s board of directors and a former banker, called the proposal “shabby,” especially considering most of the area’s property owners don’t have the resources to build or sustain a new recreational facility.
Sharma’s own organization, which holds after-school programming, paid just $31,000 for its third condominium in the area about three months ago. Many other owners, Sharma added, saw their property values plummet from more than $70,000 and $80,000 during the recession.
“They’re valuable members of our local community but they don’t have a voice and we want to ensure they get their fair share,” Sharma said. “The burden is excessive (that this sale would) put on owners who lack the financial incentive or capacity to properly maintain and improve the property.”
- Sale of Hilton Head tennis courts hits new snag, February 22, 2016
- Hilton Head Island plans to sell Cordillo tennis courts, October 7, 2014