Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2007

Maryvale Elementary tennis courts could be removed next year

School system hopes to ask for funding in fiscal year 2009 budget

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After years of disuse and disrepair, the tennis courts at Maryvale Elementary School in Rockville could be removed next summer.

The county school system is planning to request funding in its Capital Improvements Program for fiscal 2009 to have the courts torn up and replaced with grass, said Sean Gallagher, assistant director of the school system’s Department of Facilities Management.

Over the last few years, nearby residents have raised concerns over the condition of the courts, said Jenny Kimball, assistant to Rockville City Manager Scott Ullery.

Grass and weeds grow through deep cracks in the asphalt; the gates to the courts are padlocked to prevent anyone from playing on them.

However, there was some debate as to just who should repair or remove the courts because the property lies within city limits but belongs to the school system.

Kimball explained that the courts are not used by Maryvale students, as tennis is not a part of the curriculum.

Maryvale was once the site of Southlawn Middle School, which opened its doors in 1969, which is why the tennis courts are on site, Gallagher said. Southlawn was converted to an elementary school in the mid-1980s.

In late June, Rockville Mayor Larry Giammo submitted a letter to Superintendent Jerry D. Weast, asking for confirmation from the school system that it was planning to improve the condition of the courts.

He called the courts ‘‘eyesores to the neighborhood and school users” and said the Maryvale PTA has also requested city funds on ‘‘multiple occasions” to improve the courts, in addition to neighbors raising their concerns.

On Aug. 2, Kimball said, MCPS and city officials toured the site and discussed the future of the tennis courts. As a result, both parties came to a verbal agreement that the courts would be removed, she said.

Kimball added that Rockville has not yet received a letter from MCPS to confirm those plans.

Gallagher said MCPS plans to submit that letter in the near future.

‘‘We did have a meeting with the City of Rockville to discuss the future of the tennis court area, and they were not interested in doing anything from the city’s point of view,” Gallagher said.

He added that the courts are not in good enough condition to use and that it would ‘‘require a significant investment in order to get them into usable shape.”

Gallagher said that if funding were approved, it would be available July 1, 2008. He estimated the project would cost $40,000.

‘‘There are four tennis courts, so that’s a lot of asphalt to pull up and dispose of,” he said.

Linda Ekizian, president of the East Rockville Civic Association, said she is pleased to hear of the school system’s demolition plans but hopes the school system will keep the fencing around the courts to help keep the schoolchildren safe.

‘‘But certainly the tennis courts are obsolete and anything would be better than what’s there now,” Ekizian added.

Maizie Cummings-Rocke, who has a daughter at Maryvale and is a member of the PTA and the East Rockville Civic Association, said having the fencing ‘‘provides a secure play area” for students and keeps outsiders from getting in.

She added that the courts have long been an issue for the PTA and that the parent-teacher group has gone back and forth with the Board of Education and the City of Rockville about removing or converting them.

In an e-mail message to The Gazette, Linda Berthiaume, one of three Montgomery County Council of Parent-Teacher Associations coordinators for the Rockville Cluster, said she would be glad to see the courts go and that it is ‘‘long past time for MCPS to remove them.”

All three women say they hope the students will enjoy playing in the space. Berthiaume said there has also been some talk of planting a garden there.

‘‘Having a grassy area where the schoolchildren can be supervised as they play will be a vast improvement on what they have right now. Currently, they are confined to an asphalt play area adjacent to one new and one old jungle gym on top of wood chips,” she wrote. ‘‘Now they will be able to play touch football or soccer without worrying about skinned knees.”