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Lebanon Valley Community Tennis Association and the City of Lebanon will receive funding to help improve the tennis courts and add a dedicated pickleball court at Louser Memorial Park Southwest, also known as Optimist Park, at 1400 Elder St.

A sign at the entrance of the Louser Memorial Optimist Park that says, “A project of Lebanon Optimist Club: Louser Memorial Park Southwest.” (LebTown file photo by Jeff Falk)

The funding is in the form of a $110,000 Local Share Account grant from the state Department of Community and Economic Development. LSA grants are funded by revenue from gaming facilities across the state.

Jeff Robbins and Mark Seaton, LVCTA co-directors and co-founders, are pleased with the grant, which does not require any matching funds.

“We’ll be able to take the first steps in our project to provide more tennis and pickleball opportunities for the community at Optimist Park,” Robbins said.

“The park is well placed to allow us to reach an underserved community; it’s next to low-income housing,” said Seaton. Additionally, Robbins said that LVCTA was aware of the master site plan for improvements to the park that was developed by Lebanon about six years ago.

“We are excited that our project was selected to be funded through the statewide LSA grant,” said Janelle Mendoff, Community & Economic Development administrator for the city.

Mendoff said the next step is to sign a grant contract with the Commonwealth Financing Authority. The contract will outline the terms of the grant.

“At this time, we have not received our formal contract but are eagerly awaiting it. Once the contract is signed, we will work with an engineer to complete the final design for the project and bid the project for construction,” Mendoff said.

If all goes well, resurfacing could begin either this fall or next spring. The current plan is to resurface three of the existing tennis courts, and convert the fourth one to a dedicated pickleball court.

The courts may also be shifted about 10 feet to the south to create a setback from the alley. But Mendoff said while shifting the courts is part of the current plan, it could change in final design.

She said so far there’s $155,000 in funding for the project, which includes the LSA grant, funds earmarked by the City of Lebanon, funds raised by LCVTA, and funding from Penn State Hershey Medical Center’s REACH program.

According to its website, “REACH (Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health) is a national program administered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to reduce racial and ethnic health disparities. In 2018, Penn State College of Medicine was one of the recipients of the REACH awards to work with the communities of Lebanon and Berks counties.”

Formed in 2019, LVCTA’s mission is to provide Lebanon County with a safe, accessible, and supportive environment that uses tennis instruction to build community. Suiting their actions to those words, volunteers have conducted free youth tennis clinics at Optimist Park for the past four years.

Conducted by high school players and coaches, LVCTA’s free tennis clinics are held over a two- or three-week period. About 50 kids take to the courts, learning the game of tennis during the free clinics.

Robbins said LVCTA’s volunteers provide tennis instruction as part of the Summer Camp Rocks and Empower the Mind day camps at Optimist Park and with the Pennsylvania Migrant Education program at Lebanon Valley High School.

And since the organization is recognized by the United States Tennis Association (USTA), that affiliation helps provide equipment including tennis racquets and tennis balls for the clinics at the park through Net Generation, its youth tennis program. Seaton said Cathy Shaak, USTA Middle States Central Pennsylvania District tennis service representative, has helped connect LVCTA with USTA and its resources.

“We try to be at the park one night a week for freeplay for whoever comes out—this summer it will be Thursday nights,” Robbins said, “We want to be visible and to meet kids at their skill level.”

He said the USTA affiliation also opens up a potential funding source for its long-range plan for the park. “Our ultimate goal is to enclose the tennis courts at the park {to allow for year-long play}. Our original plan was to do it all at once, but we realized it will be a costly project so we broke it into three steps,” Robbins explained.

Improving the existing tennis courts is a first step via resurfacing is the first step of the project. Robbins said having a new surface will make the courts more usable and encourage more people to use them.

“Right now, when we do clinics, if there’s any sort of moisture on the courts, we can’t use them since with moisture the surface becomes unsafe,” Seaton said.

Robbins indicated that the addition of a dedicated pickleball court will also attract more seniors to the park. He said pickleball is a big draw for seniors.

When the courts are resurfaced, LVCTA plans to reboot its capital campaign, which will raise funds to enclose the courts. Robbins said initially the group planned to construct an indoor facility with office space and an equipment storage area, but that plan was too costly so it’s been reimagined. While the ultimate goal is to enclose the courts, it could be done with a seasonal cover.

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“The main reason we are moving the footprint of the courts 10 feet to the south is so that if and when we are able to raise that money, we can convert the resurfaced courts to an indoor facility,” Robbins explained.

To find out more information in LVCTA and its programs or to make a financial donation to the organization’s effort to improve the tennis courts at Optimist Park, visit its Facebook page.

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Rochelle Shenk

Rochelle A. Shenk is a writer with over two decades experience. Her work appears in regional business publications and lifestyle magazines as well as area newspapers. She writes about business and municipal sectors as well as arts and entertainment, human interest features, and travel and tourism. Rochelle...