By Seth Daniel
As the Bubble at the Mel Stillman Tennis Center is set to unequivocally come down next week, officials in the Walsh administration said this week that the CHAD Tennis program should have been prepared for the demise of the facility known as the Bubble – which houses the courts in the winter months.
Walsh officials said that the day-to-day operations of the Stillman Tennis Center were transferred to CHAD six years ago, and they have managed the operations and collected all fees though the facility is still City property under the Boston Center for Youth and Families (BCYF) umbrella.
With that having happened, City officials said there was an understanding at that time six years ago that the Bubble was at the end of its lifecycle, and that CHAD should have been exploring their options for when the time came.
The end of the Bubbles life came in November when ISD inspectors came out during the annual installation of the facility – which CHAD admits is dilapidated and something for which they have been asking the City to address for several years. Those inspectors, and also a set of independent engineering inspectors, called for it to be taken down immediately because it was unsafe. With the Bubble being taken down, it effectively ended 25 years of youth and adult tennis programming.
City officials this week said it was an unfortunate situation, but not unexpected. They did commit to continuing to be in contact with CHAD during the process.
Over the weekend, CHAD founder Tom Desmond sent out a letter to supports – many of whom signed a petition with more than 300 names – calling for action. He said they are calling for Gov. Charlie Baker and Mayor Martin Walsh to identify available land for a new facility within the next seven business days.
They are calling for 60,000 square feet of land to accommodate three tennis courts and near to the current center, which is behind the Charlestown football field.
He said once the land is identified, they believe they can start construction on a simple structure immediately and resume programming in mid-January.
“To accomplish this it would require cement, I-beams, and sheet metal: all of these items, I suspect, are in someone’s inventory now,” he wrote. “There are no specialty items needed. A building as just described could be up in two weeks from the start of construction, and programing could resume in the middle to end of January, 2018; with three new tennis courts, lighting and heat. The remainder of the facility could be built over the next year or so. I am from a family of Ironworkers, I was a “mule” for a carpenter’s crew as a young man, I have “pushed cement”, and in my current professional life I work with companies that build sky scrapers. This is a simple project and can be done in the time frame laid out: six to eight weeks.”
The petition, after one week circulating, gathered 328 signatures and many heartfelt sentiments about how important the Bubble and tennis has been to Charlestown adults and youth.
“I can’t imagine life in Charlestown without the Bubble,” wrote one signer. “It’s a true tennis community there; a place of warm welcome, support, smiles, education and exercise. It’s an epicenter of the Town.”
Added another member, “As a long-term adult member, I’ve had a chance to see many of these young people grow and mature and themselves become actively involved in their own communities, which is truly awe-inspiring. Many of these young people came and continue to come from very humble beginnings. The absence of an available site and related-programming efforts means most of them would never pick up a racquet.”