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Steps taken toward indoor tennis facility

Tennis lovers are one step closer to having a indoor facility to play tennis in during Oak Harbor’s rainy seasons.

Recently, members from Whidbey Island Tennis Association (WITA) and the North Whidbey Park and Recreation District joined together to create a committee to see to the legalities of constructing a building that would house indoor tennis courts.

After trying for over a year to get the Park District involved in the tennis project, WITA members finally persuaded commissioners to make a motion forming a committee to join them in the planning process. Commissioners, however, said they still have many questions they need answered before WITA and other tennis players get their facility.

John Prietto, a spokesperson for WITA, said WITA hopes to build a first class facility at no cost to the district and then hand over ownership and operational responsibility to the board.

“What we need from you, in fact, is to have the expertise on how to make it work,” he said.

The association’s quoted cost for starting this project is $1.5 million.

Prietto reported that WITA already had an excess of $1 million in pledges toward the project, an offer of land use by the Oak Harbor School District and applications for site development with the City of Oak Harbor.

Prietto also reported to district commissioners that WITA had all the engineering complete, the architectural designs and construction documents donated and hoped to start site preparation this summer.

Oak Harbor resident Sally Dillon, who has also been involved in trying to help bring an indoor tennis facility to Oak Harbor, said even with all these steps forward, she understands the commissioners’ hesitancy to take on such a project.

“The Park and Recreation District has to protect themselves,” she said. “The questions that they have need to be answered.”

Commissioner Tom Johnson brought up a list of questions before the board, addressing several of his greatest concerns. He wanted to know if WITA wanted to hand over all ownership and responsibility to the district, thus giving WITA the benefits without the burden, or if they simply wanted a partnership of management.

He also wanted to know how WITA intended to stay a tax exempt organization, when the district that would manage the facility is not; if taking this project on would hinder the public approval of the district’s upcoming levy request; whether or not the projected cost included property lease costs; whether or not WITA was working with the school district to legally take possession of the donated property; and which organization would have responsibility of the property lease.

“Why should the district place itself in this precarious position with the potential for extreme financial burdens that would be detrimental to our existing facilities,” Commissioner Johnson said in a letter to the fellow commissioners in April.

To help answer some of these questions, commissioners passed the motion in April to form the joint committee, and commissioners Brien Lillquist and Harvey Prosser volunteered to represent the district in these committee meetings.

At the district’s May meeting, commissioners reported that the newly formed committee had met twice and that in order to move forward, WITA had to prove that it could come up with adequate funds to pay for the facility and not leave the district with any financial burdens.

Commissioner Prosser also stated that the district needs legal consultation on what move to make next.

WITA representatives in attendance expressed certainty they could comply with the district’s requests and continued to speak positively of the project and its many possibilities.

You can reach News-Times reporter Christina Tercero at ctecero@whidbeynewstimes.com or 675-6611.

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