Coach Courts Board Approval For Free Summer Squash Program In Southampton Village - 27 East

Coach Courts Board Approval For Free Summer Squash Program In Southampton Village

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Doscher Park in Southampton Village. KITTYMERRILL

Doscher Park in Southampton Village. KITTYMERRILL

A miniature replica of  a glass squash court like the one that may be installed at Doscher Park in Southampton Village. KITTY MERRILL

A miniature replica of a glass squash court like the one that may be installed at Doscher Park in Southampton Village. KITTY MERRILL

Another view of the miniature replica of the squash court a local group wants to install at Doscher Park in Southampton Village. KITTY MERRILL

Another view of the miniature replica of the squash court a local group wants to install at Doscher Park in Southampton Village. KITTY MERRILL

Southampton High School Athletic Director Darren Phillips with Stephanie Janus and Sayed Selim at Doscher Park. KITTY MERRILL

Southampton High School Athletic Director Darren Phillips with Stephanie Janus and Sayed Selim at Doscher Park. KITTY MERRILL

A local group of squash enthusiasts hopes to erect a court on teh property depicted above with hash marks.

A local group of squash enthusiasts hopes to erect a court on teh property depicted above with hash marks.

Kitty Merrill on Mar 3, 2020

World-renowned coach and former Southampton Youth Services squash director Sayed Selim, part of a contingent of squash enthusiasts, appeared before the Southampton Village Board on February 25, looking to fulfill what he described as his dream: a glass squash court for public use, for free, for local children.

Along with his partner, Stephanie Janus, and supporter Monda Bassil, the coach said he was looking to erect a free-standing glass squash court and, at first, thought of Agawam Park as an ideal location. He said this week that a position at the front of Agawam Park would be more visible.

Further thought and preliminary meetings with village officials led him to revise the plan to site the court just next door, at Doscher Park.

According to a handout crafted by the trio, squash courts are created with panels that include athletic glass walls and windows, measuring about 21 feet wide and 32 feet long. The one Mr. Selim, who has been head pro at the Meadow Club for three seasons, has in mind would be portable and installed just for the summer.

Ms. Janus explained that the court would eschew traditional wood flooring and use glass instead to better weather the elements.

A self-described “squash mom,” Ms. Bassil said the court could help lure more people to the village. While kids are playing or taking lessons, their parents could shop in the business district. She also mused that a nearby store might serve as a “pop-up” site for tutoring or test prep as students wait for court time.

Mr. Selim hosted two international tournaments during his SYS tenure and said those could come to the village as well. Such an event could serve as an end-of-summer fundraiser, with all of the profits going back to the village to assist in cleaning up Lake Agawam. There could be junior tournaments for players ages 13 to 17, college-age tournaments, and exhibition matches featuring top players from around the world, he said.

Village Board members seemed welcoming to the trio and supportive of the concept. Ms. Bassil said her group would provide more details once they know that the village was in favor of the idea.

This week, the group plans to meet with their contractor and Gary Goleski, the village’s head of public works, to best determine where the court would fit on the property.

Ms. Janus is working on creating a schedule and said the group has been working with officials in the Southampton School District, who sent out a flier to parents to gauge interest in a free summer program for children.

Darren Phillips, the district’s athletic director, said he is ready to embrace the program. “I think it’s awesome,” he said on Monday while meeting with Mr. Selim and Ms. Janus at the site. “I’m all for supporting non-traditional sports. Anything we can do to get kids physically active and finding something they might love.”

Squash is not a sport children traditionally see played on television, like football or baseball, he agreed. Having the court in Doscher Park, in the heart of the village, would give them an opportunity to see it.

Mr. Selim pointed out that when he started the program at SYS, only one kid played. “We finished the season with 70,” he said, adding that one of his students went on to West Point, thanks to squash.

“Kids can get into Ivy League schools with squash,” he said. Plus, he added, “it’s a lifelong sport.”

The sport is undergoing a boom in the city, Ms. Janus said, with several private schools investing in programs and building courts. Mr. Selim coaches at Poly Prep in Brooklyn, which boasts tournament winners.

The group hopes to use sponsorships to underwrite the free program for local children. They want to schedule “open court” times for public use, ladies’ mornings, and family nights on Sundays. They also plan to add a fitness component along with the programs for students, and to host an opening-day celebration for the community, with activities for children.

After the group’s presentation at the Village Board meeting, board member Kimberly Allan thanked the group for considering an idea that would bring people into the village.

Board member Richard Yastrzemski noted that the use has to have a public benefit, because the park was bought with Community Preservation Fund revenue. He noted that parking in the village “can be an issue,” but said he liked the idea of using the Doscher site.

The lawmaker wondered if having a glass court in the park might be a security issue, but Village Police Chief Thomas Cummings said he had no misgivings about the project.

“You have board support for the concept,” Mr. Yastrzemski said. “We need more detail.”

Village Administrator Russell Kratoville suggested that the group undergo the village special events process, garner input from involved village departments, and pursue a license agreement.

Purchased in 2005 for $3.1 million, the 1.6-acre Doscher property lies adjacent to Agawam Park at 37 South Main Street. The cost was covered by the Community Preservation Fund, and the village was designated stewards of the land.

CPF regulations are strict when it comes to uses of land acquired with the dedicated fund, which derives its revenue from a 2 percent tax on most real estate transfers. According to State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., an author of the legislation creating the CPF, how a property may be developed relies on how the expected use was articulated when it was purchased.

In this case, the intent of the acquisition is listed in varied ways in resolutions adopted by the Town of Southampton, the administrator of the CPF. In 2005, the land’s purpose is “park, recreation, open space and/or conservation purposes” and places the property in a “Village/Hamlet Green/Parks and recreation Target Area.”

A resolution in 2006, however, describes the property as “parkland.” Still another town adopted resolution, in 2017, lists the property as “open space parkland.”

The 2017 resolution called for a payment of $92,000 to the village for the demolition of a building on the land, which occurred that year. Razing the building was a focal point of discussion among Village Board members in 2012, according to published reports.

Then-mayor Mark Epley called for the demolition of the dilapidated structure, once a residence, and originally, he said, a brothel. The cost of the house’s rehabilitation was deemed too high.

At the time, fellow board members thought it could be a potential location for a youth and senior center, or for temporary housing for village offices while Village Hall was undergoing a renovation, but the costs of rehabilitation were deemed too high. Additional consideration was given to installing lockers in the house for families using Agawam Park, or removing the wall and expanding the park, perhaps even creating a canoe launching area.

The CPF law permits the acquisition of lands for open space preservation, farmland preservation, parks and recreation, and historic preservation. So, both passive and active parks are permitted categories under the law. CPF funds can be used to buy land for active recreation, but it cannot be used to construct recreational facilities, Mr. Thiele explained.

“This is completely new to me,” Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said of the proposed squash court last week. Informed that Village Board members seemed supportive of the idea, he said, “It’s not their property — the town owns it, they manage it,” he said.

Permission from the town would be required, and at the February 25 meeting, board members echoed the need for working with the town.

“This has been my dream for 10 years,“ Mr. Selim said this week.

Ms. Janus added that “without the newly elected mayor and his board, we wouldn’t have this opportunity or get so close to having our dream come true.”

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