ANACONDA — For members of the high school tennis team, balls hit out of bounds cause more anxiety than they should.

“They have to chase them,” tennis coach Ann Moreni said. “It’s like going on an Easter egg hunt after every basket of balls runs out.” The team has been without an even, fenced playing surface after longstanding courts in Washoe Park crumbled. Practices are often held at elementary school playgrounds with portable nets, and matches are always out of town.

“We take our show on the road,” Moreni said. “We never get the home court advantage. A lot of parents don’t get to go to support the team.” But that will change by the end of summer.

Work is under way on four new tennis courts in Washoe Park. The $120,000 project, spearheaded by the non-profit Washoe Park Foundation, will replace the original clay courts with new playing surfaces and a new fence.

“It’s been a long time coming and we’ll have some good courts to play on,” said Pat Huber, county parks and recreation director. “Hopefully Mother Nature is not so hard on them.” The park’s tennis courts were built decades ago and have been resurfaced several times. But this is the first time the courts will be dug up and completely reconstructed.

The foundation has been saving money since 2004 for the project from donations, fundraisers and grants — including a substantial grant from the state Fish, Wildlife and Parks department. The county has donated labor and use of heavy equipment to remove the old playing surfaces.

The work began a few months ago, but hit a snag when workers found slag — an arsenic-laden byproduct of copper smelting — had been used as filler beneath the courts.

“It’s like an archeological dig over there,” Moreni said. “You see all the layers and you see slag.” Although it took awhile to formulate plans for disposing of the contaminated materials, workers are now hauling them to a waste repository.

“We are hoping to have that done and ready to pave by late June, early July,” said Larry Sturm, the county’s road supervisor, who is overseeing the work.

Replacing the slag and clay with new base materials will allow for higher quality construction this time around, he said.

“That stuff doesn’t allow for real good drainage,” he said. “We’re doing it once, and we want it to last for a long, long time.” When the county is finished preparing the site, a contractor will finish the courts — which will feature Anaconda High School colors, said Bob Andreozzi, a member of the foundation and the Anaconda Tennis Association.

The new courts will allow the association to resume summer tennis lessons and weekend tournaments, he said.

“Philipsburg had their courts redone, Butte had their courts redone — everybody but us,” he said. “It’s our turn.” Huber applauded the grassroots efforts behind the new courts, saying they will round out the park’s offerings.

“It’s a huge asset,” he said. “It just tells you what kind of community you have.” Reporter Erin Nicholes may be reached at erin.nicholes@lee.net.

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