Dear Dr. Mason,

As we begin the second month of the Firebirds Community Tennis Club pilot (UDC started accepting reservations for September 24), we thought it would be a good time to provide some initial feedback on the program, with a view to further improving it, both for UDC staff and community members. The Community has been provided constant input and feedback from current pilot program members and those on the waiting list since the pilot program began. Below is some of the input and suggestions received.

The new courts are beautiful. It is a joy to see the UDC tennis team train and play matches. Since opening the courts, we notice some improvements have been made, including the placement of benches as well as rollers and brooms. What do you think of the community organizing a tennis event (e.g. a doubles round-robin) one upcoming weekend morning, e.g. Saturday November 20 for UDC staff and community members? Please let us know and we will work to coordinate the event, working with UDC staff.

However, the community has not been able to use the courts as much as it wanted, for various reasons:

  1. the number of participants in the pilot was capped well below the capacity of the courts
  2. the reservation process imposes too many restrictions and is not working well for the community
  3. access to the courts is unnecessarily burdensome for staff and community members

These issues and their possible solutions are further detailed below.

There is room for more neighbors in the program. We understand that UDC decided out of prudence to limit the initial number of participants to 100. Now that the pilot is running and courts are unused most of the time, it seems reasonable to invite additional community members. This would include those who tried to sign up at the start of the pilot but were not accepted (in case UDC kept that information), as well as others who have expressed interest (we have names of around 15 people who would like to join the pilot). In addition, UDC could usefully create a waitlist for interested neighbors to sign up, so that they can be invited when there is space for new club members, including after the pilot program ends.

The current manual reservation process is cumbersome for staff and inconvenient for members. There is currently no real-time court availability calendar from which reservations can be initiated; the availability calendar is updated infrequently and without notification to the community. The requested advance notice for reservations is 24 hours, making it impossible to play at short notice, e.g., when the weather is good or when people’s schedules have cleared up. Staff need to respond manually to individual requests, verifying court availability and member eligibility, which leads to unnecessary delays. The one-hour reservation timeslots are enforced as playing limits instead of as scheduling tools—if players want to continue and courts are available, that should be possible.

Using an affordable modern cloud-based court reservation platform would be an enormous improvement for all parties and can be implemented at short notice. Such a system takes out the drudgery for staff and save their precious time: no need to respond to individual reservation requests; easy blocking of scheduled events (team practice/games etc.); and easy implementation of various scheduling constraints, for example to avoid court hogging and to cancel due to unforeseen events. For members, such a system would provide up-to-date court availability and instant reservation confirmation. We can organize a short demo for UDC staff to explore the features of such platforms and help select and implement a solution for the remainder of the of pilot program to see if it is effective.

The process of opening/closing the courts is inefficient for staff and cuts into playing time; alternatives are available that would control access while being less onerous. Currently, staff walk down, wait for players, and open the court. After one hour, staff return, wait for players to vacate the court, and lock the court. Often, players would have liked to continue past the one-hour reservation slot, as courts remained unused. There are other locks on the market that control access with a card or fob, or with a time-changing code that is automatically texted to members minutes before the reserved timeslot starts. The courts could also be opened earlier in the morning, which is a good time for community members to play.

The UDC Athletics program and a community tennis club should—and can—be mutually beneficial. A thriving community tennis club would bring UDC an income stream, and the UDC tennis program will get access to members that may engage in clinics, camps, lessons etc. A well-run club running a modern platform will prepare students better for the tennis world as it operates today. If the club operations are running smoothly and members feel they get value for their money, membership will grow. Members expect at least to be able to get what they have at public courts (courts open from dawn into the evening, the ability to play as long as you want if nobody else is waiting). For a monetary consideration they will expect additional value, such as a modern reservation system, good lights, better maintenance.

With regard to lights, we were wondering if the master plan amendment process has been started. Evening usage of the courts is an important part of the attractiveness of the UDC courts for the community. The Community has begun to coordinate with the ANC and other City officials on getting the tennis court lights on.  We would like to work directly with you on this issue as the UDC Capitol Plan has a direct impact on not only the community, but the future of UDC as well.

To recap, we have the following suggestions, and are looking forward to work with you on these:

  • waitlist: add community members to pilot program (we have a list of 15 prospects available that we will forward separately for privacy reasons); create waitlist; contact those that submitted application but were turned down.
  • reservation platform: do a (free) trial run of an online court reservation and membership management system; we can demo these and help with choice and implementation.
  • access: study access options that do not require staff to open and close courts for every court use; open courts earlier in the day; allow play once UDC competition play or practice is over; allow play to continue when the court is available after reservation timeslot ends.
  • Lights: Work directly with the community to file an amendment with the planning commission and work with the Mayor’s office, as well as Councilwoman Cheh and other city officials to bring light to the UDC tennis courts.

We are looking forward to working with you to adjust the pilot program!

Letter to President Mason – October 28

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