By J.D. Moor

Stewart Russell, Universal Tennis Academy managing partner, says the company has spent all it budgeted for repairs this year, and is now waiting to see if their contract will be renewed.

Miller Wright of Dunwoody is captain of an Atlanta Lawn Tennis Association team that plays regularly at the Blackburn Park Tennis Center. At times, he’s been appalled by the condition of the center’s courts.

“At the city finals, I was on courts 7 and 8, and both teams wanted to know why ALTA would hold a match on courts in need of such major repairs as these,” Wright said. “I had no answer.”

When asked the same question, ALTA President Diane Barker said she’d rather not answer either.

The Universal Tennis Academy, which operates the tennis center under contract with DeKalb County, had six of the center’s 18 courts resurfaced in July. But Stewart Russell, UTA managing partner, said the company has spent all it had budgeted for repairs this year and can’t commit to spend more until it knows whether it will still be running the center after May 2013, when its contract with DeKalb County expires.

“We would like nothing more than to get the other 12 courts redone, except our budget is tapped out for 2013,” he said. “We can’t do it alone. DeKalb won’t do it and we have no idea, no clue, about what’s going to happen to our contract because Brookhaven takes over in December.”

On Dec. 17, the new city of Brookhaven opens for business. Brookhaven residents who voted to create the city were told it would likely take over and operate the county parks within the city limits, which presumably would include the Blackburn Tennis Center. But no one can say how soon the new city would begin operating any parks facilities until the new city government formally sets up shop.

Despite conditions at the Blackburn tennis center, the facility remains busy. Usage is up about five-fold from 2011, the year the tennis academy took over, and the organization has hired four new teaching pros to handle the increased demand, Russell said. There are 150 tennis teams based at Blackburn.

Russell said the Georgia State University tennis team is sending players to practice at Blackburn and the GSU team will begin playing its home games at the center in the spring.

Russell agrees that the tennis center needs repairs. He remembers his surprise at the poor quality of the courts used for a top-level city finals match held shortly after UTA took over management of the courts in 2011.

“A serve hit one of the cracks in front of a player and bounced way over his head,” Russell said. “Another ball hit a different crack at an angle and didn’t even bounce.”

Some fixes are being made. Benches have been moved from Piedmont Tennis Center to Blackburn, and UTA has installed new bleachers and new nets on the six resurfaced courts and others.

Russell said the clubhouse badly needs repairs, even more than the 12 other courts. “We have roof leaks, a bad water heater, and bathrooms that are sorely inadequate,” he said.

But that’s not enough for some regular players.

“The main objective should be to repair or replace the remaining courts, to bring them up to standards. The courts are the first and only need,” Wright said.

Russell won’t make any promises. “I don’t want the progress to stop here, but as far as UTA resurfacing the other 12 courts anytime soon, no chance,” he said.