- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 7, 2009

For a second consecutive summer, the sound of crowds and yellow felt on asphalt will emanate from the corner of 11th and H streets NW.

The Washington Kastles of World TeamTennis begin their home season Tuesday night against the Philadelphia Freedoms, again playing at a temporary facility at the site of the old Washington Convention Center. It’s a stadium that many city officials and contractors said couldn’t be built, arguing it would prove too costly, too complicated or completely unworkable.

“The first year we did it, there were a number of people who said it wasn’t possible,” Kastles owner Mark Ein said. “But it’s such a unique venue at such a special place, and it’s so accessible to everyone that it’s worth all the trouble and expense to make it happen.”

The location of Kastles Stadium helped lead to sellouts at nearly every match and was so well-received by WTT officials that they decided to move this season’s championship finals to the District. But getting the facility constructed hasn’t been easy these past two seasons. Last year, two contractors quit, citing the difficulty of working on a site with so many logistical hurdles.

The list of obstacles for getting a court built on the site in the middle of a dense urban area was long. Most tennis courts are built on large stretches of dirt, with plenty of room for construction equipment to move in and out. Not so downtown, where limited space, the need for permits and restrictions on truck travel make for a tough coordination effort.

“Being in the middle of the city here, that’s the hardest part,” said Mark O’Toole, a logistics coordinator hired by the Kastles. “You can’t assume that what you can do elsewhere you can do here.”

After last season, Ein assumed the site would not be available again because the area was scheduled to be the site of a new mixed-use development known as CityCenter DC. But the credit crunch put a halt to those plans, and by springtime Ein was busy planning for the stadium in the same spot.

“It was our first choice location for sure,” he said. “I would have thought it was pretty unlikely we’d come back. Possible but not probable.”

A source with knowledge of the construction said Ein has spent more than $500,000 on the project.

The tennis court was laid down by Mid Atlantic Tennis Courts and Supplies, a Chantilly-based company that also worked on courts at William H.G. FitzGerald Tennis Center in Rock Creek Park. Company operations manager Bob Clohan said it has been one of his most challenging jobs.

“It’s not like an open site where we can basically clear land and build a court,” he said. “We’re building on top of a parking lot that we have to return to its original condition. Overall, it’s a tough project.”

Perhaps the most challenging thing about laying down Kastles Court was the nearly five feet of slope on the site. Leveling the court required the delivery of 1,600 tons of crushed stone, followed by a complex laser-grading process. Heavy rain in June forced contractors to repeat the process before 265 pounds of hot asphalt could be laid on top of the stone.

Asphalt installation required a two-week period of “curing” the surface before a sealant or paint could be laid down. Seats and bleachers were put in before painting to avoid any marks left on the court surface.

After the asphalt was laid down and cured, a special machine was brought in to correct any imperfections. Then workers began the painstaking work of painting the court. For most tennis courts, ensuring an even coat of DecoTurf paint requires special skill, and those used in World TeamTennis present an additional challenge because of their four-toned, eight-segment design. Clohan said only 10 percent of the workers he comes across can do a satisfactory job. It’s also important, Clohan said, for the paint and sealant to be laid down when the surface is cool, meaning work can be done only in the early morning or evening.

This season, the stadium was completed in about a month, and construction went far more smoothly than the first year. Kastles Stadium will have expanded seating for 2009; bleachers on the sidelines have been widened, and an additional end zone section has been added.

The Kastles also have installed a platform on the south end of the stadium to allow for concerts. The stadium now has a capacity of just under 3,000, and Ein said ticket sales are 20 percent ahead of last year, with expected sellouts or near sellouts at every match.

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