Thanks to low installation costs and overall strength, most tennis courts in the U.S. are asphalt. But as anyone who works with asphalt knows, the material’s annual maintenance and repair requirements add up. That’s why newer playing surfaces are becoming more popular.

A public facility in New Jersey is the first in the region to install one such alternative: post-tensioned concrete.

In June 2016, the City of Summit Department of Community Programs unveiled four renovated courts in Tatlock Park. A joint effort between the city, Union County Kids Recreation Trust, and the Summit Tennis Association (STA), they meet U.S. Tennis Association (USTA) regulations for both amateur- and professional-level play and maximize playing time without disturbing surrounding residential neighborhoods.

Proprietary process ensures durability

Pound for pound, concrete costs more than asphalt. Until recently, it was also more difficult to color.

However, unlike asphalt, post-tensioned concrete doesn’t require the existing surface to be pulverized-in-place and disposed of, a process that increases renovation costs by about one-third. Instead, the surface provided by the construction contractor, Classic Turf Co. LLC of Woodbury, Conn., can be placed directly on existing asphalt and concrete, provided it has the correct 1% slope.

Concrete is placed on top of two layers of 6 mm plastic poly-sheeting to minimize friction so the slab can be tensioned properly. Classic Turf uses seven-strand steel tendons instead of non-pressured reinforcing steel. Each cable receives a second stressing force of 33,000 lbs./in.

The surface is comprised of a coat of polyurethane primer and three coats of a water-based acrylic polymer. Blue is often chosen to increase the visibility of yellow tennis balls.

The result is a playing surface that can be installed in about eight weeks and flexes instead of cracking from freeze/thaw cycles, requiring fewer repairs than asphalt. Twenty-year asphalt maintenance costs that rise to the thousands include labor and material as well as the difficult-to-quantify but very real inconvenience to the public when courts are closed for repairs.

Innovative design features improve playing surface longevity and lower long-term maintenance costs.

Classic Turf Co. guarantees its five-step installation process, which includes fencing and lighting, for 20 years and the color coating for 10 years.

After comparing all these factors, project partners decided that concrete’s upfront costs were overshadowed by its long-term cost savings.

Thoughtful design elements

The courts’ design also will minimize costs over time.

LED lighting. Musco Sports Lighting LLC 400-watt LED lights use one-fourth the energy of metal halide lights and produce 10 times to 15 times less spillover and glare onto surrounding homes.

The fixtures employ “instant on” technology so time and energy are not wasted as lights illuminate. A three-minute strobe warning system lets players know the lights will soon be shut off. The remote control system allows for offsite management with on and off capabilities and controlled permission levels.

Player safety and comfort. Designed by Premier Product Development LLC (ppd) of Moorestown, N.J , “bump outs” at each end of the four-court facility have a powder-coated steel bench and cloth canopy for shade. These rest areas keep players from colliding with the bench or their equipment.

The corners of the courts are “clipped” to keep balls from getting trapped there.

Maintenance access. Gates in the fence make removing leaves and other debris easy.

Nets and fencing. A 5-foot net attached to the top of the 10-foot fence protects homes from wayward tennis balls. The six-gauge, black vinyl-coated steel fencing protects against damage from nontraditional uses, such as lacrosse shooting practice. Black vinyl coating and square posts complement the courts’ modern aesthetic while allowing them to blend into the park’s natural surroundings.

Striping. Added for USTA 10 and under.

Asphalt or Concrete? A Quick Comparison

 Asphalt  Concrete
 Hardness No appreciable difference between the two No appreciable difference between the two
 Expansion control Not customary Yes
 Colorcoating adherence Standard application  Additional sealing step required
 Crack repair Regularly once crack appears Minimal
 Removal of existing surface Yes, generally a better approach No, concrete right over top
 Typical warranty 1 to 3 years 10 to 20 years
 Approximate longevity 10 to 20 years 20 to 40+
 Construction cost Lower 
 Reconstruction cost No appreciable difference between the two No appreciable difference between the two 
 Estimated lifecycle cost  Lower

Everybody's pleased

STA President Ian James says the courts are “an absolute delight to play; you get a very consistent bounce because of the nearly perfect surface.”

More than 300 people attended the renovated facility’s grand opening in May 2016. Department of Community Programs Presiding Officer James Colucci credits the department’s forward-thinking process and the partners’ commitment for the 100% positive feedback the city’s received since then.

“I’m proud of this collaborative project,” he says. “After years of patching cracks and losing the early spring season, Summit’s tennis community will enjoy these courts without interruption for years to come."