Photo: Belmont HS Juniors Brett Stievater and Phoebe Gray of the tennis teams seeking to bring back tennis courts to the new school campus.
After being delayed by more than six months due to concerns that the oversight process was too compressed, the anticipated solicitation of proposals for a new Belmont skating rink has again been put on hold as a last-minute appeal from supporters of Belmont High tennis has forced the School Committee to include five courts in the proposal.
The release of the request of proposal (RFP) for the new skating rink on school property west of Harris Field is now scheduled for Jan. 15, 2020 with the deadline for bidders to submit responses by Friday, March 20.
Additionally, the critical Town Meeting vote to approve the project and the transfer of the land for a public/private operation has been kicked from the first Town Meeting session in late April to the second night of the second session on June 1.
“There’s been an increasing call for the RFP to contain a programmatic need of tennis courts on the site and it finally came to a head,” said Jeffrey Wheeler, the town’s senior planner who is managing the RFP process.
The delay comes as the result of a last-minute push by a coalition of members of the high school tennis squads and racquet-loving residents who contend tennis was slighted in the design of the Belmont Middle and High School, the new 425,000 sq.-ft., $295 million school building that will house grades 7th to 12th.
While detailed plans for the new building and the land has been approved earlier in the year, the initial protest occurred when an army of supporters squeezed into the Chenery Middle School’s small conference room as if it was the Wimbledon grandstand before a championship final.
But the crowd of students, parents, and friends that came to the Belmont School Committee’s Nov. 12 meeting to express the collective unhappiness of their sport being ignored in the new school’s sports community.
“This is a simple question of equity,” said Katherine Stievater, a resident, parent of two varsity tennis players and boys’ tennis liaison to the Belmont Boosters Club.
“Members of the tennis team were disappointed and shocked when we learned that we’re the only varsity sport at Belmont High School that will not have its playing facilities rebuilt on the new campus,” said Belmont High Junior Brett Stievater who played varsity doubles last season.
The existing high school once had 10 courts near its east wing adjacent to the student parking lot, more than enough – five are required – to hold both the regular season and tournament matches.
But when the new school project was designed, it was discovered early on the building – which has a greater footprint than the existing building and roadways and parking – would put a squeeze on the playing fields surrounding the school. The solution was
Stievater noted that all other varsity teams will practice or play on the new campus
While the teams can use municipal courts to practice, that option will push residents off of playing surfaces that they have been using ,” said Donna Ruvolo, co-chairman of the Friends of Grove Street Park who was representing the municipal courts at the Grove Street Playground, adjacent to PQ Park and the Winn Brook Elementary School.
The campaigner’s support is wide and growing; petitions with several hundred signatures along with the support from the captains of each sports at the high school.
“It has been amazing to see other Belmont students support the tennis team being on campus. All varsity sports deserve to be represented on the new campus,” said Belmont High Girls’ Tennis representative Phoebe Gray.
“I think they know that it could have been them being sent off-campus,” said Gray.
While it appears movement has been made to restore the courts on school property, including those courts will likely force the schools to lose a playing field for other sports which it will be hard to replace, said Wheeler.
Wheeler noted the School Committee is planning to conduct a Community Impact Analysis which will determine the effect moving playing fields off-site will have for the students and other organizations such as Second Soccer. That analysis will. be completed by Jan. 7.
One longer-term hoped-for solution would occur with the construction of a pedestrian tunnel under the commuter rail tracks from Alexander Avenue to the high school campus, allowing for easier access for teams to the Winn Brook playing fields.