Court Construction and Maintenance: Hard Facts About Hard Courts
Asphalt or post-tensioned concrete — which is right for your facility’s tennis courts?
If there’s a hard court construction (or reconstruction) project in your facility’s future, you’ve undoubtedly been overwhelmed by the well-meaning suggestions of your members regarding everything from court color to cutting-edge amenities. But mention that you’re trying to decide between asphalt and post-tensioned concrete for your surface, and the silence is deafening.
Fact is, once the acrylic coating goes down, players forget about that decision entirely and concentrate on their game. You, on the other hand, as owner or manager of the facility, are in charge of maintaining the courts, keeping an eye out for problems and heading any problems off at the pass. Ultimately, the issue of asphalt vs. concrete — while invisible to your players — will be the most important decision you make.
On the Surface
Times were, the choice between asphalt and concrete was solely cost-driven. Asphalt was by far the less expensive of the two pavements and was often the automatic choice as a result. In recent years, however, as the cost of petroleum has risen, and as the popularity of concrete has strengthened, prices have become, if not equal, far more comparable. In addition, the technology of post-tensioned construction has become more widespread, with more contractors available, bringing down the cost as well.
Nevertheless, in determining which surface is appropriate, it is essential to take into consideration a number of factor, including:
- Budget for installation
- Budget for maintenance/repairs
- Whether the courts are indoors or outdoors
- Possibility of additional work being done on the facility or immediately adjacent to the tennis courts
Some of these factors may not appear to be the type to influence your choice, but they should be considered.
Asphalt, properly installed and maintained, supplies dependable ball bounce and a fast game. So does post-tensioned concrete. Both will make your players happy — at least initially.
The Hard Facts
Asphalt, as a pavement, is flexible. As it ages, it dries and shrinks. In areas where there is a freeze/thaw cycle, this process will move more quickly. The result is cracking of the surface. All asphalt pavements — whether they are on roads, parking lots or tennis courts — will crack over time; it’s a function of the aging process of asphalt itself and not an indication of faulty construction. While many cracks can be cleaned and filled, and more extensive cracking problems can be addressed with proprietary crack repair systems, the asphalt will continue to age, and more cracking can be expected.
Post-tensioned concrete, on the other hand, when properly installed, stubbornly resists cracking. The cables that hold together the concrete exert a tremendous compressive force, holding the pavement at the same tension. And because concrete is not vulnerable to drying and shrinking, it often becomes the go-to surface in areas with an extended freeze-thaw cycle. Contractors occasionally refer to it as a “crack-free pavement.”
However, post-tensioned surfaces require — if not any additional maintenance — at least additional forethought. The presence of the cables rules out work such as drilling into the surface or doing any type of demolition that could disturb the post-tension structure, since breaking a cable can have catastrophic consequences. For this reason, it is imperative to determine whether other additions to the tennis facility are planned; if they are, ask the concrete contractor for design and placement recommendations.
Asphalt vs. post-tensioned concrete: Your players may not be able to tell the difference in courts. You may not notice a difference in day-to-day care, since both take identical maintenance practices (keeping the surface clean and free of debris, making sure water does not stand on the surface for any reason, etc.). It’s the long-term picture you want to look at, though, in making your choice.
Like the two-party system, or Coke and Pepsi, asphalt and concrete each have their fans. Ultimately, there is no right choice; there can only be the right choice in a given situation.
See all articles by Mary Helen Sprecher
About the Author
Mary Helen Sprecher is the managing editor of Sports Destinations Management Magazine, a niche business-to-business publication for planners of sports travel events, in addition to being an RSI Contributing Editor. She is the technical writer for the American Sports Builders Association and works as a newspaper reporter in Baltimore City.
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