The Wellington Village Council made a good start by renewing tennis vendor Tommy Cheatham’s contract for two years. Mr. Cheatham has done an outstanding job in a very tough industry, is an outstanding resident for over 20 years, and has always done exactly what the village has asked him to do. The tennis complex serves more than 400 residents year round, and serves many more during the winter season.
He has maintained competitive and enthusiastic women’s league teams programs, which is considered in the industry as a near impossible job. This has not been an easy task, and Mr. Cheatham has done despite the village, not with it.
The courts (with the exception of the four newer ones in the back) are over 25 years old and in deplorable shape. There is no drainage, the court watering system is archaic, the fences are rusted, the clubhouse is barely adequate and in poor condition, and parking is non-existent at times. There are not enough courts at prime time to meet the needs of the residents, and many are turned away, reducing income and resident service levels. Like the old community center, the tennis complex needs to be replaced.
When Wellington became incorporated, the village was spending a little less than $300,000 on its tennis complex and programs. Later, under Jim Barnes’ term as leisure services director, the amount was negotiated down to $170,000 with Mr. Cheatham picking up more of the cost of the complex and staff. Later, with Bruce DeLaney taking the helm at leisure services, the cost to the village has been reduced even further to $90,000 — all with no complaints from Mr. Cheatham as he and his staff continued to provide an outstanding service level to the residents.
Where Vice Mayor Howard Coates thinks Mr. Cheatham is subsidized is beyond my professional opinion. Wellington spends over a quarter of a million dollars on field maintenance and lighting just for youth baseball, and it serves far less than 400 residents. The cost is even higher for youth soccer and football, as the field maintenance and lighting is even greater than baseball. The fees charged residents for these programs are lucky if they cover direct costs of the programs, let alone the indirect costs of purchase and construction, field maintenance, and repairs, lighting and field prep. There is no difference between the village paying indirect costs for football and baseball, or paying for the tennis courts (except it is far lower for tennis).
Councilman Matt Willhite was right on the money when he suggested that a new tennis facility be built at K-Park to better serve our residents. That centralized location, with newer clubhouse facilities and courts, would allow Mr. Cheatham to offer a tennis program to a larger audience, possibly increase fees and rentals, increase programs, allow for tournaments and even possibly bring the costs down to the village by increased memberships. The tennis complex construction could be timed to coincide with the tearing down of the old community center, thus allowing a smooth transition.
And if any of you were at the community center complex for Play Day earlier this month, you could not find a parking space. Utilizing the site of the current tennis complex for parking would allow for multiple activities to be held at that site with ample parking for all the residents. Great start, council; now follow through with some thoughtful actions.
Editor’s note: Steve Haughn is a founding member of Wellington’s Parks & Recreation Advisory Board, represented Wellington on the Palm Beach County Sports Commission, and currently is facilities/program manager for the Lake Worth Leisure Services Department.