What most people in St. James Town saw as a derelict old tennis court, a group of teens from the area saw as an opportunity.
Now, they could be on the verge of bringing in $50,000 to turn that opportunity into a reality.
Members of the St. James Town Youth Council noticed – as anyone walking by would – that the court was full of cracks and littered with garbage and dog feces.
“The reality was, that was a space that should have been put to good use but wasn’t,” said Gabilan Sivapatham, St. James Town Youth Council member.
Rather than lamenting the loss of what could have been a great community space, however, the group sprung into action. They approached the property owner and asked if he would renovate the space, but due to cost concerns, he said he could not.
They came away from that meeting with some hope, however.
“He said to come up with a proposal with some ideas on what we want and how to get there and he would look into it,” Sivapatham said.
The youth council held a community consultation meeting attended by everyone from children to area seniors to see what people would like in that space. Once they had their answers, the St. James Town teens approached various companies for quotes on how to get the court resurfaced and turned into a multi-sport public space.
“The quote was for $65,000 to $70,000,” Sivapatham said. “We knew we weren’t going to get that money just between us so we approached schools, summer camps and other local organizations to see if they would pitch in.”
Because budgets were tight, of course, the youngsters found themselves well short of their intended target with few other avenues to pursue.
“Finding $60,000 isn’t the easiest thing to do, especially when you’re in Grade 10 or Grade 11,” Sivapatham said.
Fortunately, Community Matters Toronto, a group of St. James Town neighbours, has similar designs on the tennis courts as part of their Smart Development plan.
“We were trying to get people to think of that as a usable space,” said Margaret Coshan of Community Matters. “We had a portable shuffleboard and badminton set donated so suddenly we started seeing youth playing games and seniors getting involved.”
The court now has a net that can be set to various heights, helping make it suitable for various sports.
“Every day last summer, the net was either used at the tennis court level or moved up so people could play volleyball or badminton,” Coshan said.
While the court is finally in use, plans are still in the works to have it resurfaced and painted with lines to make it also suitable for ball hockey. If that work is done, the court will be usable for a variety of sports, including tennis, volleyball, badminton, ball hockey, shuffleboard and even a modified form of cricket.
The groups have entered a competition held by the MLSE Team Up Foundation to support local sports organizations. The winners are voted on by the public and should the groups’ proposal come in the top two in its category, it will mean a windfall of $50,000.
Voting will take place at https://mlseteamupfund.org/Charity/Gallery until 11:59 p.m. Friday, March 8.
As of Tuesday, Feb. 26, the project was on the cusp of winning, bouncing between having the second and third most votes.
“It would mean so much to this neighbourhood to have this court,” Sivapatham said. “It’s something we really need down here.”