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Dilapidated tennis courts leave Saugus girls team homeless

SAUGUS – The Saugus High girls varsity tennis team has no home court advantage.The physical condition of the courts outside Belmonte Middle School where the matches would be played are so deplorable the girls must either rent a tennis facility to host competitions or concede to a schedule of away-only games.According to Cindi Medeiros, the high school tennis coach, repairing the courts would cost $7,000.”We have 30 girls who have paid their $250 sports fee and want to play,” said Medeiros, adding discussion of disbanding the team has surfaced. “We certainly do not want that.”Medeiros said the school department received a bid of $7,000 to fill the holes and cracks on the courts. “So it comes down to who pays for it,” she said, referring to whether the cost should be borne by the school department or Town Hall.Medeiros has claimed Town Manager Andrew Bisignani refused to pay for the work because the courts are a school facility.Bisignani denied making such a statement. “I never said any such thing. That is a total fabrication,” he said. “I don’t even know who she is and I have never had a conversation with her.”The town manager said he first learned of the tennis court conditions three weeks ago in an email from Samuel Rippen, the school department accountant. A second email followed.”This is something that should have been discussed last November,” he said. “If it’s such a priority, why doesn’t the school department pay for it out of its own $25 million budget?”Medeiros said her daughter, a Saugus High senior and captain of the tennis team, made a presentation to the school committee last year to illustrate the need to repair the courts.”We even emailed pictures of the courts to Sam Rippen,” Medieros said Friday. “But nothing was done.”Bisignani said the town gave the school department $60,000 in fiscal 2011 to offset athletic activity fees. “What happened to that money? That was an offset and money that can be used,” he said.Bisignani said he told Rippen the town isn’t in a position to repair the courts, especially since Saugus residents are being asked to accept a one-time property tax special assessment to pay for last winter’s $1.2 million snow and ice removal expenses. He also noted a boiler at Saugus High began leaking last week, causing interior damage and making several classrooms uninhabitable.”We don’t know what that is going to cost,” he said, explaining the boiler leak involves hazardous materials.The boiler room problem emerged just as the high school is undergoing an important state accreditation survey.Bisignani said he supports the tennis team but the town budget does not have the funds to repair the courts.”Our priority has been the soccer field inside the track at the Belmonte School, which is what we were asked to do by the schools. The work is done, new drainage installed and they’re seeding it now,” he said.That an athletic team would be forced to play all away games due to the lack of a home court is not unprecedented or unusual. During the construction of Manning Field in Lynn, the city’s teams played no games on a home field.School Committee member Arthur Grabowski said the situation is complicated because both Town Hall and the School Department are short on funds.”The town government is responsible for buildings and grounds. It’s a town responsibility, not a school responsibility, like shoveling snow from the building roofs,” Grabowkski said. “Right now, the schools don’t have the money available. The town doesn’t have the money available. But any playground or field attached to a school is the town’s responsibility. We only do custodial things in the building, not major maintenance. It’s like renting a house. You don’t replace the roof if it leaks, you call the landlord. Well, we are basically tenants in those school buildings.”Bisignani, however, said the town’s building maintenance funds are not for repairs to athletic fields.Grabowski said the girls tennis teams deserves courts on which to play, as

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