Tennis compromise not likely soon

By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal Oxford Bureau

OXFORD – A solution to the impasse over expanding Oxford’s John Leslie Tennis Center may be in sight, but two of the entities potentially involved aren’t talking much.
Oxford Park Commission officials and tennis supporters have explored the idea of adding 12 new courts, two half courts, a clubhouse and covered bleachers to the eight-court facility on Price Street that would serve not only area residents, but also high school and college tennis teams. Working with engineers and architects, they created a plan with an estimated price tag of more than $3 million.
Lafayette County’s board of supervisors earlier this year rejected an invitation to share the cost of the project with Oxford and the University of Mississippi. Subsequent communications between city and county officials has been spotty, but Board of Supervisors President Lloyd Oliphant put the issue on the agenda for Monday’s board meeting.
“All we’ve got is the last thing they’ve presented to us. That’s the proposed plan we’ll be discussing,” he said.
Bill Baker, a former Oxford alderman and tennis advocate, said there has been progress since then.
“The city is looking into the possibility of doing a design-and-build rather than putting it out for bids,” he said. That process, using city crews to do the work where possible, is the same one Oxford officials plan to use for their proposed central fire station.
Oxford contractor and tennis fan James E. Davis said discussions with regional contractors specializing in tennis courts convinced him the basics could be built for $1 million.
“You build 12 courts – that’s half a million, maybe $600,000 – then you build your sidewalks; you see how much money you’ve got left and decide what else you can build,” he said. Using local utility crews to install lights could save tens of thousands of dollars, and a basic clubhouse could be designed to facilitate later enhancements, he said.
Oxford Park Commission Director Rob Boyd said the plan could address the most urgent need – additional courts.
“The other things that are going to make it a first-class facility – whether it be a clubhouse and a gathering space, whether it has a pro shop, to practice courts and viewing areas – when it gets down to it, we need more courts.”
Oxford Mayor Pat Patterson said he’s eager to save money but believes from $1.5 million to $2 million is a more realistic figure. Given his doubt that supervisors will support such a proposal, the city will likely withdraw its request when the county raises the issue Monday.
“We’re looking at some new proposals and ideas from several different people,” Patterson said. “We slowed down on it because the county wouldn’t fund their share.”
Patterson did not comment on the prospect of winning support from a new Board of Supervisors, but tennis supporters are commonly credited for the defeat of three incumbent supervisors – including Johnny Morgan, who had voiced support for the original proposal – in the August primary and runoff. Both incumbents who won nominations face opponents in the Nov. 8 general election.
errol.castens@journalinc.com