2017 Season Update

Canada Day Update

This is an update to the 2017 Season Update found below.  The context of some of what is discussed here is found in that prior update, so please read it if you are not already familiar with it. There are three parts to the update: results of our poll; the latest news from the City of Toronto, and; the upcoming membership survey.

Poll Results:

As expected, there was mixed opinion regarding whether a Club should operate in 2017 versus leaving the courts free and open under City management.  The clear majority preferred the “Administrative Year” option over a paid membership given the uncertainty around the condition of the courts.

We notified the City of the results, but also decided not to bother trying to collect the administrative fee.  The concept of the administrative fee was two-fold. First, it would hold prior members place in the queue for 2018 membership when we expect vastly more interest due to freshly refurbished courts. Second, it was designed to ensure that people with some level of commitment or “skin in the game” would be involved in deciding what happens at the courts and with Club operations in 2018.

2016 members will be considered “past members” for 2018 membership fee purposes.  The logistics issues and hassle involved in collecting the administrative fee outweighed the value of collecting it.  We are volunteers and the existing board members were not enthusiastic about doing this, so that means it does not get done.

City of Toronto:

The City was not willing to co-fund repairs to the courts that would have addressed basic safety issues and the pooling of water on courts 3 and 4.  The lack of fundamental maintenance for so many years has resulted in any attempted repair of net posts, irregular surface areas, or depressions likely involves the proverbial unpleasant surprise when the surface is peeled away.  A seemingly small repair is more likely a nightmare in the waiting.

The City also has employs some curious management philosophy.  They recognize that courts 3 and 4 are flooded for extended periods of time after every rainfall, diminishing court availability quite severely (especially this year with the incredible amount of rain we have had so far).  Their response to the diminished court availability is to not erect nets on those two courts so they are now unavailable 100% of the time.  Your tax dollars at work…

Regardless, the two courts that do have nets are now public courts. Please be respectful of this reality and do not attempt to eject people off the courts by claiming that you are a member.  It is first-come, first-served.  There are no current members.

If you have any suggestions about how to better utilize courts (e.g., to have four nets instead of two), or if they need cleaning (e.g., to deal with the silting that occurs from the pooling on courts 3, 4 and 1) or if the trees need trimming so they don’t block the lights on Court 1 (yes, as they do every year, but no one from the City ever notices), feel free to contact our Councillor (Doucette: 416-392-4072).  The general level of apathy in the community about the condition of the courts is precisely why they have been ignored for years and the 2018 scheduled refurbishment is happening (if it does) at least five years later than warranted.

Upcoming Policy and Operations Survey:

I don’t want to repeat what was already described in the prior update. Please familiarize yourself with that if you are interested.  The survey is being written now. We will distribute it towards the end of the Summer.  Respondents will be expected to provide their name and phone number and/or e-mail address.  It is not an anonymous survey, but a polling of people willing to contribute with their opinions and preferences to our Club.  

The survey will also be available to “non-members,” also known as people who want to become members in 2018.  The analysis of survey results will distinguish between past members, prospective members—and others, if there really are any people out there interested enough to respond even though they don’t want to participate.  Doubtful, but the courts are ultimately a community facility housed in a public park, so we have no reason to restrict input.

By the time we release the survey, we should have information from the City regarding the timing and other details of the 2018 courts refurbishment.  To date, we have received no details or confirmation of anything.

Thanks, and best wishes for a safe and good Summer.

Marc Collins
President, Swansea Tennis Club

May Update

Court conditions: So, after almost six months of waiting for the City’s opinion as to whether the courts in their current state are safe enough for them to operate as public courts—no answer. There has bee a few exchanges of pleasantries, but it is time to move on.  Councillor Doucette did acknowledge the frustration we must be feeling given the lack of reply, but everyone can draw their own conclusions about what it means that the City cannot give a simple “yes” answer to this question.  Undoubtedly, the lack of an answer is connected to the second key question we asked.

First, some context.  The City is 100% responsible for providing safe and decent quality courts for use by the Club and the general public.  This is the case at all City-owned courts across Toronto.  Clubs are responsible to provide the acrylic (coloured) surface and to provide and raise nets if they are operating as a Club.  That’s it from a physical perspective.  The City also is responsible for tree trimming, lighting, and issues like drainage that especially affect the Swansea courts.  What does the Club do, then?  Community tennis clubs exist primarily to manage access to the courts, since there are always more demands for court time than there are courts and prime time hours on offer.  We are supposed to be having fun playing tennis and sponsoring programs and tournaments, not dealing with crumbling courts.

So, the second key question was whether the City, under these special circumstances, would consider co-funding repairs to the courts (e.g., the depression in courts 3 and 4 that renders half our courts out of service for a day or more every time it rains).  These repairs would be extensive and disruptive enough that acrylic resurfacing would almost certainly be required, at Club expense.  We were willing to consider paying some of the basic costs, too, if it meant we could have decent and safe courts for 2017.  The City’s offer to date has been to do nothing but minor crack repairs.

Decisions: We have two major conundrums as a Club. First, we do not have enough money in reserve to pay for the reconstruction of the courts ourselves.  That will cost in the order of $400,000 based on a rough estimate from several years ago.  The City’s more recent investigations have likely seen that number rise.  I wrote last time about the City’s new recreation policy that basically passes the buck to community Clubs.  If we charge more and raise more funds, we don’t have to put up with substandard court conditions and badgering the City for 5 or 8 years to get them to fulfil their responsibilities. Those clubs can look after their own needs.

Part of the reason we do not have the funds available is because we have had the lowest membership fees in the City (not confirmed with a thorough survey, but we must be in the bottom 5%–even Eglinton Flats costs more to join than our Club and most comparable Clubs in the neighbourhood charge approximately triple our fee levels and have severe extra charges for new members).  However, past management was simply following the traditional model where it was expected that the City would fulfil its responsibilities.  We need to address this important funding issue going forward, but more on that later.

The second conundrum is that we have deteriorated and potentially “unsafe” courts.  Unsafe in the sense that there are defects and imperfections that are well known to all involved and could contribute to injury.  If we operate the Club with full knowledge of these defects, it could be concluded that we did not prevent people from harm’s way…on purpose.  We are not a litigious society and I am confident no one would purposefully seek to injure themselves just to launch a lawsuit, but it is a point of principle.  It is unacceptable, at least to me, to ask community volunteers to manage a facility where they have zero control over the basic conditions, but expect them to assume liability and risk. That’s not supposed be part of the deal when managing community courts.

Of course, this second dilemma only exists because the courts were permitted to deteriorate so far in the first place…  Around we go.

In that context, the Board of Directors discussed and arrived at the two options described below (also flowing out of the options describe in the last communique).  It is complicated because we have 2017 to think about, but the management board is also responsible for the long-term. My goal in joining the Board was to try to ensure the Club is not back in this same disadvantaged position a few years hence.  We all want to play tennis now, this year, but decisions, or lack of decisions we make now will flow-down to future members.

Do we need the apparatus of a normal functioning Club to play tennis this year?  How much extra are we willing to pay to secure a better future for the Club?  Should the City be held accountable to properly manage their asset that we are all paying for via our property taxes?

2017: Programs cannot run on unsafe courts.  Since we had no opinion from the City by the time programs had to be committed to back in the late Winter, there are none.  There is nothing preventing people from organizing their own casual games, social evenings or pick-up games on public courts.  Simply meet at the courts at a regular time and enjoy, if you so choose.  Unfortunately, other programs like the youth camps and organized lessons and inter-county are victims, because they require an actual operating and permitted Club.

2018: Unless we receive early enough (and then believe in them) firm construction dates for early Spring of 2018, programs for next year are also in jeopardy.  I find it unlikely that we will get these dates in time to plan and organize programs, or, if by chance we do, that anyone will put their own money on the line to pay instructors, commit to inter-county schedules, etc.  So, 2018 may also be an irregular year even if we have lovely new courts for the majority of the season.

Money (2018 and beyond):

There is not a shortage of funds for 2017 or to do the acrylic resurfacing for 2018, assuming the courts are reconstructed next Spring.  The issue is the future.  As a Club and as a community we need to decide if we follow the formula of other Clubs in the area—much higher fees and fewer programs—or set our own path that may have good and bad consequences.

DIFFERENCES BETWEEN LOW AND HIGH FEES

LOW FEES HIGH FEES
  • Better financial accessibility for lower income residents and students
  • Encourages some to use us as a club-of-convenience since membership is cheaper than everywhere else
    • This may be negative for things like inter-county play, but positive if you want extensive youth programming and adult lessons to be located on our courts
    • We also further encouraged this with discounted memberships for people who just wanted to participate in programs
  • Capital reserve fund insufficient to control our own major repairs in the future
  • Worse financial accessibility for lower income residents and students
  • Can build reserve fund sufficient to control our own major repairs in the future
  • Expectations about court conditions and access to court time will be higher
  • Likely fewer programming options located on our courts due to higher operating costs for those involved

There are no right or wrong answers regarding these items, but the consequences of these choices and others can easily generate real conflict, as we experienced in our own Swansea tennis community not so long ago.  The intention is to do a thorough survey of 2016/2017 membership so we can decide collectively how the Club should operate going forward.  These decisions have repercussions too grave to leave to a handful of existing Board members to decide.  A selection of the issues we will ask you about include:

  • Post-reconstruction fee levels – will we follow the lead of Old Mill and the City’s policies by charging approximately three times our previous fees, or, strike some other balance that will likely leave future members holding the bag similar to the bag we are holding today?  The bag smells bad…
  • Do we also maximize or increase the newly-joined member penalty/differential, as is the case at most of our neighbours
  • How many or what proportion of prime time hours (weekends and weekday evenings) should be reserved for programming versus open booking of courts?
  • When programs are operating, what is the minimum number of courts that should be left open for drop-by members (historically it has been zero)?
  • How many or what proportion of non-prime time hours (weekends and weekday evenings) should be reserved for programming versus open booking of courts?
  • Of the prime time hours available to programming, what proportions should be made available to:
    • Individual Lessons
    • Organized social tennis (e.g., round robins)
    • Inter-county teams
    • Tournaments or ladders
    • Tennis camps or similar offerings
    • …whatever other things I am forgetting or that come up
  • Should any of the aforementioned activities be accorded special privileges beyond the allocation of their proportion of prime time court access, such as:
    • Payment of various fees or licenses
    • Free memberships for participants or leaders
    • Provision of balls or other consumables
    • Provision of hospitality (food, drink, etc.)

YOUR VOTE, PLEASE:

Assuming, the City (eventually; soon?) declares the courts safe, there are two basic options. Of course, if the City declares the courts unsafe, then all options are off the table.  The courts will be locked and regardless of what any of us wants or wishes, the case is closed. Let’s hope that is not the case.  If the City continues to be non-responsive, then the

ADMINISTRATIVE YEAR OPTION

We would charge an administrative fee of $10 per member ($20 for families) to retain members on the list for preferential access to purchase post-reconstruction memberships. Remember that depending on the results of our membership survey, there may be a significantly higher new (non-returning) membership fee than for returning members. Even the regular returning member fee is likely to be significantly higher than in our past unless we find some magic formula that all our neighbouring Clubs have not yet figured-out.  Remember also that if we have brand new courts in 2018, there will be a flood of membership applications, so we are attempting to give some preference to prior, loyal members.

Access to courts in 2017 may likely be even better than last year due to the lack of inter-county teams and other programming occupying a significant proportion of courts and time.  Activities like social tennis nights and pick-up tennis nights can still occur, though individuals would have to reserve the courts in succession, since there is no mechanism to reserve them in a block in advance by policy or edict. As mentioned, playing tennis in groups of two, four or twenty will not be a problem.  Programming that requires payment, instructors, league schedules, etc., are the victims.

Assuming the City eventually acknowledges that they have let the courts deteriorate too far, they will be responsible for repairs and costs.

The majority, but not all, of the Board favoured this option.

MEMBERSHIP YEAR OPTION

This option involves carrying-on with last year’s membership fees.  Although the condition of the courts continues to deteriorate, this is also offset by the better accessibility due to lack of most programming and teams. Some programming could be offered that does not involve participation in leagues or organized schemes, such as social nights or pick-up tennis nights.  The overall value relative to last year’s membership is arguably similar, and therefore justify the fees.

This option requires the Club pay for repairs, nets, maintenance, permits, insurance, etc., but the collection of fees would ultimately add to our financial reserve that needs to be built for future court-related work.  It also requires significant volunteer effort and assumption of risk/liability. People may come forward who are happy to assume those duties.  It appears to be a lot of work and some risk with the only benefits a modest increase in capital reserve and the ability for a small number of members interested in social and pick-up tennis to block-reserve court time in advance when we do not expect heavy usage of the courts (first-come, first-served will be adequate, especially when players from the group that are taking their turn sitting off can reserve the next available court in advance).

If a Club is to operate, the Board would have to decide what repairs to the courts were necessary to protect the safety of the membership and/or to justify the membership fee.  The cost of repairs will diminish the potential gain to the capital reserve fund.  Growing that fund is one of the strongest arguments in favour of this option.  It could be grown even faster with higher fees, but the Board did not see how a higher fee than in 2016 could be justified given the circumstances. Continuity of the social tennis and pick-up tennis community would be easier under this option.

One approach under this option, if the City fails to declare the court safety condition, is to operate the courts, but without implementing repairs. That crosses my personal threshold of reasonableness—I will not assume liability for encouraging people to play on the courts in their current condition.  If others are less or not concerned, I will be delighted to step aside so they can assume a management board role.  Other existing board members will decide for themselves—we have discussed this issue in depth.

DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE OPTIONS:

ADMINISTRATIVE YEAR MEMBERSHIP YEAR
Cost to members (indiv./family) $10/20 $100/$200
Members get court priority N Y
Members can play tennis with reasonable expectation of access to courts compared to 2016 or earlier Y Y
Repairs to courts City has committed only to minor crack repair Likely extensive—Board must decide what is advisable
Repairs/maintenance paid by City Club
Financial reserve No effect Modest increase
Liability/risks assumed by City Club Board
Social evenings and pick-up tennis can continue in 2017 Y (informal) Y (formal)
Inter-county can continue in 2017 N N
Youth programs can continue in 2017 N N
Programs can operate in 2018 TBD – City must provide and stick to construction schedule TBD – City must provide and stick to construction schedule
City declares courts safe Y Y
City declares courts unsafe N N
City does not declare Y N, unless board members agree to fund repairs or to assume risks of no repairs

ASSUMING YOU PLEDGE TO JOIN THE CLUB FOR 2017 REGARDLESS OF WHICH OPTION THE MAJORIY CHOOSES, PLEASE LET US KNOW YOUR VOTE FOR THE ADMINISTRATIVE YEAR, MEMBERSHIP YEAR, OR IF YOU PREFER NEITHER OF THESE AND HAVE AN ALTERNATIVE APPROACH TO PROPOSE.

IF YOU NEED MORE INFORMATION; WOULD LIKE TO PROPOSE ANOTHER OPTION; WOULD LIKE TO VOLUNTEER AS A BOARD MEMBER; A MEMBERSHIP MEETING CAN BE HELD IN THE COMMUNITY (likely Swansea Town Hall), WITH ABOUT TWO WEEKS’ NOTICE.  

IF THERE IS NOT SUFFICIENT INTEREST IN NEW PEOPLE TAKING ON RESPONSIBILITIES TO WARRANT A MEMBERSHIP MEETING, THE RESULTS OF THE VOTE WILL BE PUBLISHED AND THE MEMBERSHIP SURVEY PREPARED AS THE NEXT PHASE OF PREPARING FOR 2018.

Please email your votes in to [email protected]
Along with your vote please include whether you were a member in 2016.

Sincerely on behalf of the Executive Board,
Marc Collins
President, Swansea Tennis Club