Mt. Lebanon commissioners face a decision on how to proceed with updating the municipal tennis courts in the face of bids that far exceed the amount budgeted for the project.
Following the commission’s May 26 rejection of the sole bid, the municipality solicited further proposals and again, only one contractor submitted a number.
“The total cost in terms of the project, including soft costs, was going to be about $736,000, obviously more than the $400,000 that it originally was thought to be,” municipal engineer Dan Deiseroth said during the commission’s July 14 discussion session.
The project, as envisioned, is scheduled over a three-year period and calls for replacing Mt. Lebanon Tennis Center’s six courts, which are about 30 years old, according to recreation director David Donnellan.
“They have a subsurface irrigation system which has deteriorated over the years to the point where we are not able to water these courts with the irrigation system anymore,” he said. “You could turn it on and you’ll have puddles in one quadrant, and it will be completely dry in another.”
The nonprofit Indoor Tennis for Mt. Lebanon organization has pledged to cover 45% of the total cost, with the municipality picking up the remainder. Taking into account the $400,000 estimate, the amount in the municipal budget for the project is $220,000.
Deiseroth said the project could be scaled down accordingly.
“The action would be required on the contract to be made by Aug. 5 in order to get at least the two courts done this year, for a total cost of $224,128,” he told commissioners.
That would mean a vote at the next commission meeting, July 28, but Deiseroth said the time frame probably could be extended.
Donnellan said an option would be to replace two of the courts this year and to use the remainder of the budgeted money to install an above-ground irrigation system.
“That allows you to sort of abandon the existing irrigation system in the ground. It’s not good, because above-ground irrigation means that when you irrigate, you have to stop playing on the court,” he said. “It wouldn’t be ideal, but that’s what I would do to keep tennis alive.”
Along with a new underground irrigation system, the improvement project calls for removal and replacement of the courts using Har-Tru, a porous clay surface that reduces runoff and soil erosion. Other facets address site work and electrical upgrades.
Some of the work was not part of the original scope of the project, which contributed to bids coming in at higher than estimated, according to Deiseroth. Concerns related to COVID-19 also resulted in additional costs, he said.
“This is what the market’s telling us. This is the cost of the project,” he said. “It’s not like we made an error in the bidding or anything else to worry about.”
Regarding the choice of surfaces for the courts, Donnellan said tennis players tend to prefer Har-Tru over harder materials.
“This court is much gentler on your body,” he said of the surfaces, which are mainly relegated to private clubs rather than public sites. “We are the only facility of our kind in Western Pennsylvania.”
Municipal manager Keith McGill noted the municipality can attract high-profile tennis tournaments because of the surface.
“We consider it to be a community asset, one of the things that attracts residents to the community,” he said.
Funding for the project is part of a 2019 municipal bond issue, part of which was designated for recreational improvements. The commission at the time – three of the commissioners are new this year – decided to moved forward with replacing the courts after Indoor Tennis’ financial pledge.
“There was wide support for upgrading the tennis center based on how long it had been since we’d done those upgrades,” said Craig Grella, commission chairman.
According to Donnellan, the intention of Indoor Tennis is to contribute its 45%, no matter what the price tag turns out to be.
“I think that is a really good public-private partnership,” he said, “and demonstrates the real need we have to get these courts done.”