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Feature Article - February 2019
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Take It Year-Round

Structure Solutions to Protect Your Programs From Mother Nature

By Joseph Bush


Darryl Cummings is as sharp a businessman as he is a tennis coach.

Cummings bought a tennis club in 2009 in Virginia Beach, Va., to extend his experience and success to another area. The NCAA coach with more than 500 wins purchased a five-court property with the intent to expand to accommodate not only lessons but tournament hosting.

The main obstacle was the weather patterns in the area; it's one of the rainiest regions in the United States. All courts were outdoor, and money was lost and future business endangered by the cancellation of scheduled lessons or events. The solution was to cover some of the courts to ensure stability in plans and revenue.

The return on investment for the 120-foot by 106-foot covered area was clear, and still is, Cummings said. The business plan for the enclosure revealed that if the courts were rented at 100 percent of their potential, they would bring in more than half of the overall cost of the structure. Cummings reports that the building is now paid off.

"The building has given us a facility that a lot of racquet clubs in the area can't compete with," Cummings said. "When it rains, I no longer have to worry about shifting schedules or canceling matches, we move the play inside seamlessly."

Aside from the tennis lessons and tournaments, the club, Cape Henry Racquet Club, has hosted events for up to 200 people. Cummings chose a tension fabric enclosure—a good fit for tennis. He knew a little about the structure he chose because he played a large role in the construction of a $7.5 million indoor tennis center at Old Dominion University, where he coached for nearly 20 years.

That experience led him to only consider proposals from companies that build tension fabric enclosures. The enclosed courts are clay, and the interior is lit and heated, additions that came a year after its opening.

"There are significant details when it comes to lighting, court surface and tennis ball control when designing and building indoor tennis courts," he said. "The three types of buildings for indoor tennis courts are air bubble, metal building and tension fabric structure.

"Air bubbles have the expense of taking them up and putting them down along with higher utilities cost. Metal buildings can be costly, along with the feeling of playing tennis in a warehouse. Tension fabric structures are cost-efficient and provide natural lighting due to the translucent fabric."

Weather When You Want

The YMCA of the Suncoast liked its first alternative structure so much, the eight-location Tampa-area organization is planning for another. Opened in 2016, the pool at Citrus Memorial Health Foundation YMCA has a retractable roof structure, and the goals for the structure have been effectively met.

"From a cost perspective, they know the difference between an indoor pool and the maintenance that's required versus what's required in their Citrus location, and hands down from a maintenance and an operational perspective the costs are way down, compared to a brick-and-mortar indoor pool," said Cihan Ozdemir, project engineer for the Crown Point, Ind.-based company that provided the enclosure to the Y.

"If an organization is considering an indoor aquatic venue, this should be considered," said Tim Ackerman, vice president of properties for YMCA of the Suncoast. "The savings in both construction and operational costs are well worth looking at. Having the flexibility to have either indoor or outdoor swimming at the push of a button has a very high value. The weather becomes a secondary concern when you have this flexibility."

Ozdemir said the usual aim of enclosing outdoor areas like courts or pools is to be able to use them more extensively than seasons and weather allow—revenues rise from bookings and membership fees, and the expenses of operations and maintenance can decrease. Florida is known as the Sunshine State, but the heat and humidity can be oppressive, and it does get chilly at night at times throughout the year.

"In the summer everyone's looking to escape the sun after being out in it," said Ozdemir. "In the north you can extend the (swimming) season, and if you add a heater you can go year round. With simply adding the enclosure you're getting 10 and a half months in most of the country."

With the roof closed, areas can be used in the winter, or in the summer when it's too hot or rainy.

Care must be taken with foundations. "The structure requires very small tolerances as it relates to existing concrete being level," Ackerman said. "Our contractor poured within what he thought would be acceptable tolerances, but it wasn't as flat as was needed. We asked [for help] with the issue and they quickly agreed to. The end result has been fantastic."

One of the other Suncoast locations had an air-filled temporary structure for its pool, but the setup and takedown were problematic. With the structure chosen, windows can be opened for ventilation and circulation. The roof can be partially open as well, to provide shade for those who want that. Ozdemir said full closure/opening takes two to three minutes for 100-foot roofs and five minutes for roofs of 200 feet.