Growing Pains: Loss of tennis courts upsets YMCA members

Work set to begin in August includes expansion of La Jolla YMCA's aquatics and gymnastics programs

On the heels of its recently announced plan to renovate the YMCA Firehouse facility on Herschel Avenue, YMCA of San Diego County next plans a $15 million renovation and expansion of its 50-year-old campus at 8355 Cliffridge Ave. (off La Jolla Scenic Drive North).

Plans include the addition of two new swimming pools, a children’s outdoor water “spray park,” an outdoor fitness playground, a new wellness center, community rooms, childcare facilities, group exercise studios, an expanded gymnastics center, an instructional kitchen, smoothie café, outdoor terrace and new locker rooms.

However, to accommodate the remodel, the YMCA is removing its remaining two tennis courts, as well as a full-size basketball court — which has many members who rely on the courts for exercise and recreation up in arms.

“I live a half block from the YMCA so this impacts me greatly,” said Julie Gollin, who says she joined La Jolla YMCA 23 years ago specifically for its tennis program, which she said has been whittled down through the years from six courts to two. “Every time they kind of paired the courts down there were objections, there were letters written.”

As part of the first phase of the remodel, the tennis courts will be replaced with an additional parking lot. YMCA regional first vice-president Sue Ball said more parking is required to accommodate an expected influx of swimmers.

“Because the pools (and) aquatic center will be much bigger, we have to have more parking on site,” Ball said, adding that by removing the courts and moving the outdoor recreational area from the eastern edge of the property to the western edge (near Cliffridge Park and Torrey Pines Elementary School), the YMCA is “trying to be a good neighbor to all of the homes on the east of our property … so the noise won’t be as disruptive to the neighborhood.” (A YMCA spokesperson later said the decision to move the outdoor recreation area was based on a dialogue the YMCA had with the city, neighbors and the city’s code enforcement department, regarding active recreation uses next to a residential zone).

Ball said renovation of the roughly 5-acre YMCA property was based on a master plan approved by the City Council and San Diego Planning Commission in early 2004, though it didn’t then include removal of all the tennis courts. Ball said it has been adjusted through the years, most recently based on a market study conducted in the fall of 2013 that included 600 random interviews with members and nonmembers in the La Jolla YMCA service area. The master plan includes all features soon to be developed, as well as those completed five years ago, including the addition of new gymnasium, removal of several tennis courts and the “adaptive re-use” of former racquetball courts.

“Our goal in renovating the Y is to better align our mission to strengthen everybody we serve,” Ball said. “We want to offer programs that serve the most people, nurture children and keep people healthy.”

Ball said the YMCA “probably has 10 times more people a week using our small aquatic center as we do using our tennis courts.

“I know the people who play tennis love it and they’re avid tennis players, and I wish we could offer what every person wants, but … when we come down to the decisions, it’s what’s going to benefit the most people,” she said. “We’re the last YMCA (in San Diego) to have tennis courts. … Swimming pools help us offer life-saving programs and we’re a coastal community. The more swim lessons and water safety we can provide for children, the better we meet our mission.”

Little notice

Member Alison Soderstrom said she learned about the YMCA’s plan to remove its tennis courts only one week ago, from another member, who learned about it from a tennis instructor. “I just purchased a whole lot of private lessons for my son, which I now have to get reimbursed for,” Soderstrom said. “They could have told me, ‘Oh, by the way, you’re going to have to use these by Aug. 1 because we’re going to tear up the courts.’ ”

Gollin said several times in the past month, during the process of showing the facility to prospective members, she heard trainers mention the tennis courts and tennis program as amenities. “I’ve actually interrupted them and told the prospective members that the courts are going to be gone by Aug. 1,” she said. “They’re misleading prospective members.

“In addition to this, I found out today they’re raising membership dues again in September,” said Gollin, who said she now pays $70 a month for her membership, after several yearly increases.

“I’m really going to strongly consider ending my membership,” she said. “I hate to do it. … It’s just a nice group of people, and I love the casualness of it, but it just doesn’t feel like a neighbor anymore.”

(The YMCA said dues are adjusted slightly every year or to stay in line with cost of living expenses, and the increase is not related to the construction.)

Ball said the YMCA planned to send its members and the community a letter this week, notifying them of the upcoming renovation and loss of tennis and basketball courts.

“We’re training staff as to what’s going to be happening, so that they have the right messages,” Ball said, adding that the YMCA received final city approval for the work just weeks ago, in the form of a substantial conformance review (SCR) for the current phase.

“That’s why we really haven’t been public about it,” she said. “We didn’t know what we were going to get approval for. We didn’t want to announce something and it not be true.”

The SCR requirement was added as a condition of the master plan’s site development permit approval, to ensure the YMCA complies with all requirements of the original master plan and completes each phase in a way that does not burden the site or add functions or programs without a support system for the additions, such as parking.

The project is subject to current city codes and requirements, including energy efficiency, sustainable design and drought tolerant planting, YMCA officials said.

A compromise?

Ball said the YMCA is searching for an alternate location for members to play tennis, including courts in Encinitas, and at La Jolla High School.

“We work with a lot of other schools,” Ball said. “Right now we’re running a lot of our camps out of Torrey Pines (Elementary School). We pay the school district to use their space … so it’s not something foreign to us.”

At press time La Jolla High School athletic director Paula Conway said the YMCA had not contacted the school with its request.

Conway said the YMCA could possibly rent space for a fee on weekends by contacting the school district’s rental office. Due to ongoing construction and renovation to La Jolla High’s own athletic facilities, however, the school’s sports teams will be using several tennis courts for training in the fall, and the others for its own tennis programs.

Pacific Beach resident and tennis player Lindy Wood, whose husband serves in the military, said La Jolla YMCA is the only affordable place for her to play tennis that provides childcare. She has daughters ages 2, 3 and 11. The current military rate for her and her daughters to use La Jolla YMCA is $45 a month, she said.

“I know that there’s talks about finding new courts, but there’s no talk about finding somewhere with childcare,” Wood said. “There are a lot of moms who play, so it’s really just taking that away.”

Although Ball assured that the new, 10,000-square-foot outdoor recreational area includes some space to shoot hoops, it will not include a full basketball court. In lieu of dedicated basketball and tennis courts will be a multipurpose space that includes artificial turf and hard surface, on which a variety of sports can be played.

“One of the main functions of that space is for our afterschool childcare program and our afterschool sports and enrichment clubs,” Ball said. “We need outdoor space for kids after school, and that’s going to be its primary function in the afternoon. In the mornings, we’ll use it more for adult, outdoor fitness.”

Ball said there are an average of 90 different people regularly using the tennis courts, including classes, private lessons and drop-ins. “We don’t have waiting lists for tennis,” Ball said. “That’s a lot of real estate, and we can serve ten times the number of people by offering more swimming classes and more gymnastics. ... Our preschool constantly has a waiting list.”

Timeline

Ball said it should take four months to demolish the tennis courts and replace them with a parking lot, after which the outdoor recreation area and new pools will be built, with a target completion of May 2016.

“At the completion of the pools, we’ll start the main facility,” Ball said, noting it will include an ocean-view terrace. “We have one building that will be completely replaced.”

The current pool will remain open until the new pools are finished and ready to use, she said.

Construction updates/input

The letter sent this week to members says they are encouraged to ask questions and participate in the process.

Members will receive updates and e-mail alerts as the project enters each of four phases. The latest information will also be available at lajolla.ymca.org

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