District delays tennis court gift

John Jay tennis

The proposed new tennis courts on the former John Jay High School softball field.

Clarification: because the decision to accept the gift of tennis courts was placed on the agenda as an item for discussion, the board could not have voted to accept the gift, but could have voted to not place the item as a resolution on the June 19 agenda effectively declining to accept the courts.

The Katonah-Lewisboro school board has postponed a decision on whether or not to accept the gift of tennis courts made possible through donations, with some board members showing an aversion to the recurring maintenance costs that would be incurred should the district accept the gift.

“The idea that we are kind of being petty and asking this group that has gone out and raised this money and presenting us with such an opportunity — that we are asking them to forever pay the maintenance when providing the maintenance for our own assets is our responsibility,” board member Stephanie Tobin said at the June 5 board meeting. “I think this is such an opportunity, I find it hard to believe anyone would not want to accept it.”

Ms. Tobin’s comment came as an indirect response to a suggestion by board member Dr. Peter Treyz that future maintenance costs be covered by the donors of the courts.

The Katonah-Lewisboro Tennis Association, with the help of the John Jay Boosters Club and predominantly led by the efforts of John Jay High School varsity tennis coach Robert Labriola, has garnered $475,000 in community donations over the past two years to fund the proposed construction of six tennis courts at JJHS.

Interim Superintendent of Schools Michael Jumper estimated that the combination of long- and short-term maintenance costs would average $5,000 per year.

According to board president Charles Day, the acceptance of the courts would actually save the district money, as the cost of yearly maintenance would be less than the $15,000 the district currently spends shuttling tennis players to off-campus courts.

“I don’t think this is being petty,” Dr. Treyz said. “There is nothing I [would] rather see than eight tennis courts on the campus — I love it — but I am just trying to be practical from a fiscal point of view for the future.”

Speaking to The Ledger, though, Mr. Labriola made it clear that “the donors are not going to take on any maintenance costs.”

He reiterated Mr. Day’s point about the district saving money by paying for maintenance costs rather than busing students off site.

“That is far above what it will take to maintain these courts,” Mr. Labriola said. “This is a very generous gift and it offers so much to so many. I feel the majority of the board will feel very strongly the same way I do. These will be some of the finest, if not the finest, courts you will see at any high school.”

Ms. Tobin elaborated that, in light of the state tax cap limiting the amount of funds a district can raise through taxes, the opportunities for such large projects requiring injections of money are rare if not impossible for the future.

How many courts?

Dr. Treyz remained unconvinced and was skeptical, as was board member Jeff Holbrook, that unforeseen costs and maintenance issues could see the gift of courts turn into a burden. He emphasized the numerous local courts that are available to JJHS students.

“We also have 21 tennis courts in the Katonah-Lewisboro school district,” Dr. Treyz said. “We do have adequate tennis facilities in our school district. I would love to have these courts on campus. I just think they should be paid for by someone besides the taxpayers.”

KLSD athletic director Christian McCarthy said that court accessibility is more limited than that.

“It is really not 20-plus courts,” he said. “We have access to the Town Park and we have access to Fox Valley, that’s it; everything else we ask the Bedford recreation department to help us out because of an emergency. That’s what we’ve done in the past.”

Because the tennis court donation is the gift of labor and construction rather than funds, the proposed courts are not required to undergo a public referendum or hearing, and will either be accepted or declined solely by the board.

Although Mr. Jumper had asked that the board make a decision on the tennis courts that evening, Mr. Day, citing the late hour, made a motion to move the issue to the June 19 agenda and was supported by a majority of board members.

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