The 2018 Parks & Recreation Comprehensive Plan was developed to serve as a guiding document for future decision-making on how to get the most value from the City’s limited park land and the facilities within them, while fulfilling residents’ recreational wants and needs. The plan made several recommendations for potential improvements at Northam Park not previously included in past-year upgrades to the Tremont Pool, playground and parking lot.
In response to these recommendations, the Parks & Recreation Department initiated a project for the schematic design of infrastructure improvements to the athletic fields and tennis court complex at Northam Park, and commissioned MSA Sport to lead this process. Given the well-established nature of Northam Park and its existing uses, this project aimed not to redesign or reprogram the park but to study and develop a long-term plan for enhancements to those existing athletic and civic facilities in need of renovation or renovation replacement.
This study process began in January of 2020. At its conclusion in the fall of 2021, MSA provided a “Vision Package” for improvements that include renderings and schematic drawings. It also includes phasing information and cost estimates to assist the Parks & Recreation Department as it schedules improvements within the Parks Capital Improvement Program.
November 2023 Northam Park Improvements Update
City Council is scheduled to review the construction bid results and recommendations for a series of improvements at Northam Park at its Monday, November 13 Meeting. This proposed project includes nine state-of-the-art clay tennis courts with an underground irrigation system, a new service building that will include improved storage and year-round restrooms accessible to all park users, as well as various shade structures, six pickleball courts, enhanced pathway connections, new trees and landscaping improvements.
Funding for a phased approach to Northam Park improvements is included in the 10-year Parks Capital Improvement Program, which was reviewed and approved by City Council in December of 2021.
The first phase of work was for the installation of a new storm sewer to address ponding issues in the northern area of the park and to provide the necessary underground infrastructure for future drainage improvements. This work was completed in the Spring of 2022. Of note, until the athletic fields in the south portion of the park have been regraded/improved with under-drains connecting to the new storm line, it’s likely that these areas will still experience standing water following heavy rains.
The City will continue to determine the best approach for implementing future phases of improvements. The 2021 Northam Park Vision Plan will serve as a guide for future improvements, but specific phases may be adjusted based on budgets and impacts to the park.
September 2023 Update
After undergoing an additional study and design process for the clay tennis courts and service building at Northam Park – made necessary when 2022 renovations bids exceeded the budget by approximately 30% – UA Parks & Rec has finalized designs for a reconstruction project that will be comprised of eight-to-nine clay courts (down from 12) and a reconfigured service building. This phase is to be bid out in the fall of 2023 and if bids fall within the previously approved budget of $3.9 million, construction will likely begin early in 2024.
The reduction of the Northam Tennis facility creates an approximately .44-acre area of the park that will be available, located between the courts and Tremont Pool. Recognizing that this presents an opportunity to rethink how this space could best be utilized, the department undertook a study process to consider potential uses. A list of options were identified, based on the findings of the 2018 Parks & Recreation Comprehensive Plan, with a scoring process used to rank the options.
A series of opportunities were scheduled for residents to learn more and provide input on this project and the primary options. A July 17 presentation to the Parks & Recreation Advisory Board was made available online, with residents asked to provide their feedback via email from July 18-August 18. Staff also shared information on the study at a series of summer events and activities, including Summer Celebration, sessions at the Northam Park Playground and Tremont Pool, the Farmers Market, and National Night Out.
The Recommendations and Next Steps
At the August 29 Parks & Recreation Advisory Board (PRAB) Meeting, Staff presented an overview of the study process, along with a recommendation for how to reuse this space once it is no longer part of the Northam Tennis complex.
The results of this ranking process resulted in three primary options emerging as the top considerations: an open shelter; pickleball courts; or asphalt tennis courts. Much of the resident feedback received through the community engagement activities focused on the three top options, with a desire for greenspace, maintaining the park’s neighborhood character, the need for a high quality pickleball complex in the near term, and a desire for a tennis hub that included both clay and asphalt courts.
When assessing the results of the study, Staff also took into consideration several important factors as they developed their ultimate recommendation. This included:
- The unique character of the space in question.
- Consideration of timelines and programming opportunities for future park development projects across the community.
- The typical programming approach in UA parks that provides for a mix of smaller-scale facilities at several locations – an approach that has proven a successful, providing the desired amenities without compromising each park’s neighborhood feel and integrity.
Staff’s ultimate recommendation was to construct six pickleball courts, allowing for additional green space with a pathway and small shelter or trellis between the courts and Tremont Pool, additional green space and a second small shelter or trellis to the south of the courts, and a shade structure within the Northam Tennis complex. This option would provide the community with highly desired pickleball courts in the near future, while also adhering to the traditional approach of spreading a variety of amenities across different park locations.
A majority of PRAB members reacted positively to this proposal, with the board ultimately voting 6-1 to endorse the Staff recommendation of pickleball in the new space with an alternate of asphalt tennis to provide Council the option to support limiting the number of uses at Northam Park, with a focus on pursuing dedicated pickleball courts at Thompson and/or Fancyburg parks at a future date.
At this time, Staff is working with OHM Advisors to prepare bid documents that will include a base bid to replace the service building and eight tennis courts. It will include several bid alternates for consideration:
- Construct an additional clay tennis court for a total of nine courts.
- Construct six pickleball courts, improved pathway access and additional green space.
- Construct a shelter within the tennis complex.
- Construct two small shelter/trellis structures in the green space area.
Next steps in the process include:
- A public bid for construction of the Northam Tennis and Service Building project – including the above mentioned add alternates – will be open from late September through October 23.
- Assuming the bid process is favorable, a contractor recommendation will be considered by City Council at its November 13 and 20 meetings, with a vote anticipated on November 20.
- If the Northam Tennis Service Building project and any of the above add alternates are approved by Council, construction will begin early in 204, with an anticipated completion by the Winter of 2025.
Summer 2023 Update
A phase planned to begin in the fall of 2022 to renovate some of the Northam Tennis Courts and replace the service building was postponed. Unfortunately, despite efforts to contain costs through refinements in the project scope, bids exceeded estimates, falling victim to the inflationary effects of recent market conditions. As a result, it was determined that the work should be postponed and revisited relative to the scope and timing within overall plans for the Northam Park improvements.
During 2023-24 budget discussions, City Council members expressed support for the tennis court and service building improvements but also indicated a strong preference for accomplishing this work within the previously approved budget of $3.9 million. The issue was revisited during Council’s Retreat in January, emerging as one of four “Tier One” priorities for 2023.
Since that time, Staff has been working with our design consultants at OHM Advisors and recreation consultant Ballard King to determine the best path forward for this phase of the Northam Park Vision Plan. The presented a detailed report of their findings to Council in May that included history, usage statistics, and comparisons to similar facilities in the region.
From this analysis, the team concluded eight courts would be sufficient to sustain the program, but recommended including a ninth court as a bid alternate. The recommendation also included some adjustments to the service building, reducing its size by approximately 12% and combining everything into one structure. After some lengthy discussions, with extensive input from the tennis community, City Staff has begun work to finalize the designs for nine courts and to solicit bids from qualified construction firms in the Fall of 2023. If the bids are within budget, Staff will seek approval of the construction contracts in the Winter of 2024.
Work is underway to regrade the west athletic fields, provide new area and underdrains and a new field irrigation system and is expected to last through September. The fields will remain offline for another year to allow turf to establish. The project will also completely renovate the west baseball diamonds with new infields, backstops and dugouts.
This phase of improvements is tentatively scheduled for 2025.
The first phase of work was to install a new storm sewer to address ponding issues in the park’s northern area and to provide the necessary underground infrastructure for future drainage improvements. This work was completed in the Spring of 2022. Of note, until the athletic fields in the south portion of the park have been regraded/improved with under-drains connecting to the new storm line, it’s likely that these areas will still experience standing water following heavy rains.