Relocation of Augustana’s tennis courts causes a racket


Digital rendering of Lincoln Park construction. Photo courtesy of Augustana College.

Charlie Roiland and Allie Rial

Just before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, residents of Rock Island saw the basketball courts at Lincoln Park restricted. Safety reasons were quoted after residents reported gunshots in the park. Now, years later, a new community resource is taking their place.

Augustana’s tennis courts, currently located behind Carlsson Evald Hall, will be moving to Lincoln Park, located across the street from Swanson Commons. 

Construction is set to begin this spring, according to a press release made by Augustana on Feb. 28, and the new location will include courts for both tennis and pickleball. 

President Andrea Talentino looks forward to expanding Augustana’s partnership with the city of Rock Island.

“This is an exciting opportunity for us to begin to really partner with the city on things that are meaningful for them and meaningful for Augustana and Augustana students,” Talentino said.

While these will be Augustana’s new home courts, the effort to make connections with the city means that the community will still have access and be encouraged to use them. 

When the basketball courts were removed before the pandemic began, members of the community, including Augustana students, expressed concern over the removal of a community resource. 

“When I was a student after the removal of the basketball courts, people were kind of confused and up in arms,” alum Robert Burke (‘20) said. “The city had indicated that there would be an effort to come up with a plan to make things safe to get the hoops back and keep people safe, but that never really happened.”

According to Rock Island Parks and Recreation Director John Gripp, the decision not to replace the basketball courts was made by a former member of the city administration along with members of the school communities surrounding Lincoln Park.

“The city manager at the time was contacted by staff at Augustana, Alleman High School and Longfellow Grade School that they were in favor of the basketball courts not being put back in just due to the proximity of the schools, the kids, the traffic,” Gripp said.

When asked about Augustana’s involvement in this decision, Kirk Anderson, chief financial officer and vice president of administration, declined to comment. However, he agreed that the reason behind the removal was safety concerns.

“I think it was a concern amongst both the college and the city that there were things that were going on there that raised concerns about the safety of not only our students, but the community members around,” Anderson said.

The safety of Lincoln Park has been a focus of Augustana for some time now, according to alum Olivia Smith (‘22). With the current state of the courts, people are unable to safely play a game of tennis, and interest in this resource has declined because of that. The implementation of the new tennis courts allows the community and Augustana to have a safe, updated place to play tennis and pickleball.

“I worked in student government, so I worked with administration a lot last year, and obviously, safety was a big concern. Lincoln Park was definitely an area that we talked about a lot,” Smith said. “I remember this one meeting in particular where someone had said ‘we’re working very closely with [the city], and we’re looking to maybe make some investments in that [Lincoln Park] area.’”

While not stated at the time, these potential investments ended up being the new tennis courts that will be put in later this year. As stated on the Augustana men’s tennis website, the construction and maintenance of these courts will be paid for by Augustana. The area is leased to Augustana for ten years, and the lease can be renewed once those years are up.

In the agreement publicized on the Rock Island City Council website, it is stated that Augustana will have priority use of the tennis courts during their fall and spring tennis seasons. “The facility will be open to the public from May 21st to August 9th,” according to the agreement. While this agreement gives a specific time frame that community members are allowed to utilize the resource, the reality is a bit more relaxed. 

“The only time that Augustana will have exclusive use is when our teams are on [the courts],” Talentino said. “Any other time, anyone from the city can come and play.”

Anderson agreed that the community should be allowed to use the courts whenever they are not in use by Augustana.

“If it’s nine o’clock in the morning and everybody’s in class and someone in the community wants to use [the courts], absolutely. They can come and use it,” Anderson said.

Augustana wants the community to take advantage of these resources whenever possible, including times when campus groups are not on the courts throughout the tennis season. However, the words of the agreement leave more to be desired in terms of communicating this to the public, and have raised equity concerns among alumni.

“What I take issue with is that this is one of many actions taken by the city in recent years to again privatize a previously public amenity, and that’s a dangerous slope to start sliding down,” Burke said.

In order to make these courts truly seem like a community resource as much as they are one for Augustana, communication needs to be clear, especially after construction. 

Solely looking at the press release makes the policies seem unclear and increases confusion throughout the community. Solutions don’t have to be complicated, but upfront communication about scheduling should be a priority in order to avoid usage conflicts.

“I don’t know if we’ve thought all the way through the exact communication on how that would work,” Anderson said. “It might be just as easy as maybe posting a sign that says ‘this is the schedule for Augustana College.’”

President Talentino and Augustana College both value communication with residents. 

The goal of this project is not to take away a community resource, but rather to replace the existing Lincoln Park courts with improved courts that will benefit both Augustana and the community.

“We want [the community] to be on [the courts] and that’s something that’s important for me,” Talentino said. “I’ve talked a lot about wanting to connect with the community and the last thing I would ever want was a so called collaboration where it was really being us snappily saying, ‘No, you can’t use these things.’” 

The decision to partner with the city on this project reflects how much Augustana values a connection with the community.

 Taking a currently run-down community resource and replacing it with an upgraded Augustana resource that is open to the public, free of charge to the city, is another step closer to bridging the gap between Augustana and the surrounding community.

 In addition, the lack of cost for the city will allow Rock Island to build new basketball courts at Denkmann Park across town.

“I think the one thing that we’re really trying to do as an institution is trying to connect with the community; we find that very important,” Anderson said. “We’re as much Rock Island as the community members that live in Rock Island, so we like the idea of being able to provide an opportunity for not only the school but for other people who live around Augustana.”

In addition to administration, alumni believe that this can be a step in the right direction. Current and former Augustana students live throughout the surrounding community, and seeing an effort being made on Augustana’s part to connect to the community is reassuring.

“I think Augie’s partnership with the city is definitely a huge benefit to both the city and Augie, and I am very glad that they were not only able to make this happen, but that it proves Augie has a huge investment in the community area,” Smith said.

Making an inclusive space means considering both the public and the students. Clarification about community usage is crucial to properly inform the community of the new resource, and this was not the only point in the release needing verification. 

Another confusing point from the agreement was that “additional parking will be located where [Augustana’s] current tennis courts are located.” The idea of moving the recently redone tennis courts in order to add more parking spaces was not an exciting announcement for many. It raised environmental concerns, and the idea that the space would be used to create a parking lot proved inaccurate according to President Talentino.

“One of the benefits of moving the tennis courts is that then that gives us a place where we can potentially build another academic building as we add things or create new opportunities for students. So, there will definitely not be a parking lot there,” Talentino said.

Neither the representatives from Augustana involved with the agreement nor the director of Rock Island Parks and Recreation could identify where the idea of a parking lot may have come from. The lack of clarity in the information available to the public caused confusion in students and community members alike. 

“In the end [this decision is] ultimately going to benefit everybody, residents and students,” Burke said. “But it’s the disconnect and then the lack of communication that is a little disappointing.”

Conversations between the city and the college seemed to be more frequent than with the city and the community at large. In addition to the conflicting information of the press release, this contributed to some of the confusion and surprise at the announcement of relocating the courts.

Although the press release was the way many students and residents found out about the tennis court relocation, the decision was not made out of the blue. There were opportunities available for community members to voice their opinions on the move before it was announced.

“We’ve had several park board meetings where we discussed the topic,” Gripp said. “Obviously it’s open for public comment, but at those meetings, there was no public comment regarding it. And it was also put in front of the City Council to endorse the plan, and there was no one that commented, no public comment at either one of those meetings.”

Even with the press release and the opportunity for public comment, many people around Augustana were still not well-informed about the changes ahead. Information was published on Augustana’s men’s tennis website regarding the exciting transition, and Smith hopes that the project will become even more of a source of community excitement once construction begins.

“I don’t know if people have heard necessarily about the tennis courts, but I definitely think when ground breaks on this that people are going to know and they’re going to be appreciative,” Smith said. “I’m very excited to see what that does, especially [for] kids in the area, families, what it means for people doing coaching stuff. I’m very excited to see it.”

The addition of the new courts to the community park is sure to create excitement amongst Augustana and the community as a whole. With multiple amenities, the courts will provide an improved space for kids and families to hang out alongside other members of the community and watch a tennis match during Augustana’s season or start one themselves during other times.

The new courts represent a continued commitment from the President to bring Augustana and the surrounding community closer and provide improved facilities for both. 

The decision to put money into these courts isn’t just putting money towards the tennis team or the college, but also putting money into the community and implying that the college wants to help improve the community it’s a part of. 

“I am thoroughly impressed with the way that the new college leadership has kind of stepped in and picked up right where the buck left off,” Smith said. “Seeing [Talentino] thrive and really take an investment in the students is fantastic and not just the students, the community at large and I’m glad that they are here and appreciating our community for what it is.”