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By Joyce Westner

The Packer Ellis tennis courts on Palmer Street need repairs due to recent rainstorms and lack of maintenance, according to a resident who spoke at Monday night’s Select Board meeting.  Ferenc Vajda spoke on behalf of the Winchester Tennis Association (WTA), a 94-year-old non-profit whose members are concerned with the deteriorating condition of the courts themselves, as well as the retaining walls and stairs. 

Vajda told the board in a speech written mostly by his wife Aniko Laszlo that the courts are over 100 years old, the oldest public facility of its kind in New England.  In an interview Vajda told the Winchester News that it's unique in that very few municipal courts are made with clay, and it's larger at 15 courts than most municipal courts.  Not only do the WTA members and non-member players use the courts, but so do the high school boys and girls tennis teams.  

Vajda told the board that the WTA “funded many smaller improvements on and around the court for decades.  However, the WTA’s small budget does not allow for capital improvements off the magnitude these courts need to be brought into the state of good repair.”

He asked the board to consider doing emergency repairs and also to fund an engineering design study to assess the needs.  “As of today, the WTA has a pledge of $10,000 to defray the cost of the design and engineering study.”  

He also reminded the board that the courts aren’t just for playing a racket sport.  “Tennis,” Vajda said, “is a building block for social connectedness, friendship building, volunteering, and helping each other.  These courts offer immeasurable inter-generational benefits that no social program spending can replicate.” 

In his interview with the News, Vajda of the 411 players who buy season passes, two-thirds are from Winchester and the others are from 25 different communities in the area.  Fifty-five percent of the season pass holders are 55 and older, and about 12% are 18 and under.  “The fees that families pay for the high school tennis players does not go into a town fund to maintain the courts.”  

When Capital Planning Committee Chairman Jim Johnson told the Select Board about their ranking of the town's capital needs, he said that the tennis courts are ranked high on the list.  Recreation Department Director Nick Cacciolfi told the News that the recent rain runoff from Palmer Street created a waterfall which blew open a manhole cover and left debris up to the two-foot mark on the side of the courts.  But he's optimistic.  “It's an exciting time for the Recreation Department,” he said.  “It's rare that the town has money for recreation needs.” 

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