By Seth Daniel
It appears to be game, set and match for the Stillman Tennis Center and the CHAD tennis program – as the City plans to tear down the beloved ‘Bubble’ tennis center next week after unexpectedly determining it to be structurally unsound.
The Bubble has offered tennis leagues and instruction at affordable prices for adults on a membership basis – and also has a traveling women’s team as well – but has existed for more than 20 years as the signature sports program for young people in CHAD (formerly Charlestown Against Drugs). Now, after all that time and many pleas over the years to the City calling for repairs, the Stillman and CHAD have been blindsided by City inspectors who have ordered the old bubble to come down.
General Manager Susan Wynn is calling for the community to rally around the center and hopefully to get a reprieve or emergency repairs to keep the indoor tennis courts opened to adults and kids in the Town.
She said every year the put up the Bubble for the winter months in late October. This year they put it up in early November as usual, except City inspectors came out and found problems with the structure and ordered it down immediately – leaving the adult leagues and kids’ programs suddenly without a home.
“After it was up, to our surprise, the ISD (Inspectional Services Department) came and inspected it,” she said. “They wanted to take it down that day due to structural issues going on. Boston Centers for Youth and Families (BCYF) asked to have a separate company look at it. After they looked at it, they came back and said it was unsafe and had to come down ASAP…Funny enough, the Bubble is no different to me or anyone else who uses it on a regular basis than it was last year or the year before. It’s dirty, it’s gross and ripped and not perfect, but that’s why people use it. It allow us to offer these programs and keep the costs down.
“It’s a great place for people to come and learn tennis and meet friends and be active,” she continued. “It’s unfortunate this happened without much notice.”
She said they have been in constant communication for more than four years about the concerning conditions in the Bubble, but no one seemed to take note of those pleas – until now. The unfortunate part, she said, is that they have been working to try to keep something sudden from happening, but it’s always fallen on deaf ears.
“Interestingly enough, the Bubble was sitting in the same place in the same condition for many, many years and we have been vocal about it, but no one ever said anything until just now,” she said.
Wynn said the City wants to tear down the Bubble permanently by next week, if not sooner. The structure and land are owned by the City, but programming has always been done by the Stillman and CHAD partnership. That has been in effect for more than 25 years. In addition, CHAD has offered tennis programming within the curriculum of the local elementary schools such as the Warren Prescott and Harvard-Kent and Edwards Middle.
That will be a major problem with the closure too, she said.
“The funds generated from the memberships and classes funded the programs we’ve run for the kids,” she said. “We’ll finish out the year, but there won’t be a program for the second half of the school year. That’s going to be tough for the schools because it is embedded in their curriculum.”
For Wynn and CHAD tennis founder Tom Desmond, the fight for the Bubble is not yet over. They hope that the community could rally around them before the programs disappear for good.
“The City of Boston wants to take it down next week,” she said. “Once it comes down, it’s gone and it’s a big cost to get it back up. We’re hoping we can stop it quickly.”
An online petition has been circulated at the following Web address: https://www.ipetitions.com/petition/open-the-bubble.