MANKATO — It's been nearly two years in the making, and, by most accounts, the wait has been worth it.
The Mankato East/Loyola and Mankato West girls tennis teams have been playing on new facilities, this fall and the reviews have been positive.
At East, the seven old courts were completely demolished, one end of the facility was pushed out and seven new courts were built. The courts included a viewing area, complete with covered cantilever between Courts 3 and 4.
At West, the back three courts have been discontinued for use in varsity matches due to disrepair. Instead, three courts were built adjacent to the front four courts along Riverfront Drive.
The four older courts have been resurfaced. New fencing was put around all of the courts and a retaining wall on the south end was installed.
"It's pretty nice," West senior Andrea Erdman said. "I'm glad they were able to get it done before I graduated."
The new facilities were paid for by the school district, along with grants obtained from the United States Tennis Association. According to Jerry Kolander, the director of business affairs for the school district, the total cost for the two facilities was about $450,000.
East boys tennis coach Paul Williams and West tennis coach Adam Doll were largely responsible for getting the grants. Each school received $7,500 from the Northern Section of the USTA. Then an additional $40,000 was awarded to East and another $15,000 went to West in the form of national grants from the USTA.
Doll believes the community's commitment to USTA programs, particularly on the youth side, was one of the main reasons the organization looked favorably on Mankato. Doll and his wife, Sarah, oversee the local USTA team tennis program during the summer, and it has become on of the largest in the state — including those in the metro area.
Both schools also offer phy-ed blocks in tennis, and each summer, the Tennis in the Parks program is made available through Community Ed and the YMCA. Another youth program, formerly known as Quickstart but now referred to as the 10-and-under program, is also thriving in the community.
Williams said that was a key to getting the USTA grants.
"They offered the money with the stipulation that all the new courts had to include lines for the 10-and-under programs on them. The 10-under courts run sideways to the regular courts, use lower nets and use balls that don't bounce as high."
Christine Nickels, a representative from the USTA, was on hand Tuesday for the dedication ceremonies at East and West. She agreed that the community's support of youth tennis and tennis in general, was a factor in the issuing of the grants.
"The coaches here in Mankato and the local tennis association have demonstrated their passion for tennis for a number of years," she said. "The community is fortunate to have such dedicated people here supporting quality programs like this."
Both Williams and Doll stressed that all or parts of their old facilities were getting to the point where they would be unable to host varsity matches. The tennis posts on the back three courts at West are coming out of the ground, along with chunks of court. At East, the old courts were badly in need of resurfacing, but Williams was told it could not be done.
"We got estimates from two different companies and they both said the foundation of the courts had deteriorated so badly that resurfacing wouldn't do any good. We had to make a decision and, fortunately, the school district moved us closer to the top of their wish list and we were able to make it happen."
Greg Milbrath, the school district's director of bulding and grounds, oversaw the two projects. He said they began at East as soon as school got out last June and both sets of courts were ready early in the high-school season.
"It's a nice showcase for Mankato," he said. "Not only do the two schools benefit, but all those teams who come from out of town to compete here now have quality facilities to play on."