The McCarren Tennis Center (image via Google Maps)

Outdoor tennis enthusiasts in North Brooklyn will have to wait another season before the courts at McCarren Park are uncovered. McCarren Tennis Center, which pitches a weatherproof bubble over the public tennis courts every October through April, will be keeping the temporary structure up all summer, a representation from NYC Parks confirms.

The good news: Covered court usage is free. On the off-season, McCarren Tennis charges for court time, though this summer, access to the courts is bookable online, and free.

Typically, New Yorkers must purchase an NYC parks tennis permit for free access to six of the seven courts, while the seventh incurs a charge for lessons and clinics by McCarren Tennis pros, but in 2020, permits have been cancelled and all play is free.

The McCarren Tennis bubble did not come off the courts this spring, due to the pandemic pausing the construction industry. Once construction resumed, McCarren Tennis and NYC Parks mutually decided to keep the bubble on.

Is this indoor activity safe when so many indoor gatherings are still banned? Though gyms and fitness centers still cannot reopen, indoor sports, including tennis, have been permitted in New York State as part of Governor Cuomo’s Phase III of the reopening plan.

“Tennis bubbles have a blower system that constantly draws in fresh air, which circulates in the bubble,” explains Anessa Hodgson, the Press Officer at NYC Parks. “A damper system allows air to escape to the outside. The air inside a tennis bubble is exchanged every two to three hours in our largest bubble and less than two hours in smaller bubbles.” She notes that McCarren Tennis’ large height and large square footage “reduc[es] the potential for community spread as compared to an indoor building.”

A 30-foot high ceiling and a total area of 40,000 square feet further distinguishes McCarren Tennis as a safer space. “With a maximum player capacity of twenty-one inside the bubble, each player has 1,904 square feet of space, well above the FEMA requirement of 113 square feet per person in an indoor office setting,” Hodgson says.

When the bubble is still intact, McCarren Tennis maintains the courts at their own expense, and retains an on-site staff to provide maintenance and care for all of the courts. The advance reservation system helps reduce crowding, enforces social distancing guidelines, and provides security. Everyone entering the tennis bubble must fill out a questionnaire about their COVID-19 exposure, and sign a waiver acknowledging their understanding of the novel coronavirus’ hazards. Wearing a mask is required inside the McCarren Tennis bubble, though not while playing tennis.

Local tennis players are seemingly not convinced of the bubble’s benefits to the community. In a poll in the McCarren Tennis Association Facebook group, 102 members voted against the bubble, three voted in favor of it, and one person said they were neutral. Those seeking outdoor tennis in North Brooklyn must now travel to Cooper Park Tennis Courts, which only has two courts.

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