Tennis center looks to add yurt classroom

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BENNINGTON — A yurt classroom may be in the near future for the Bennington Tennis Center as it seeks to expand its educational offerings.

The Bennington Select Board unanimously accepted the Tennis Center's proposal to build an approximately 700-square-foot yurt on the center's property between the tennis courts and parking lot, and now the center is waiting on approval from the Development Review Board.

After another successful summer with the Bennington Aces, an educational tennis day camp offered for free to students in the local school district, the tennis center hopes to use the yurt as a year-round educational center. A yurt is a portable, round tent typically made from a combination of wood and canvas.

Seth Gabriel, manager of the tennis center, and Sandy Foster, Aces instructor, attended the Select Board meeting to explain the proposal and why a space dedicated to the education program is needed.

"As we start to implement our education program, we're finding very quickly that being inside the (indoor tennis dome) as tennis is taking place is not very conducive for kids to learn," Gabriel said. "So we feel it's necessary to take our program to the next level to have a separate, dedicated space for education."

Foster explained that after being allowed to use the Bennington College campus and classrooms for the Aces camp this summer helped the Tennis Center realize how important it is to have a separate space for learning. Currently, educational classes are held in the same area as tennis lessons, which make it difficult for students to concentrate.

"Students need a quiet place to focus on learning," she said.

The 30-foot wide insulated yurt would have a "very nice heating and cooling system" and restrooms would be available just around the corner from the building, Gabriel said. The center may add a boardwalk and deck to the yurt for ease of access to the restrooms.

The tennis center will consider allowing the yurt to be used for other purposes, but for now, its primary purpose is for education programs and after school programs held by the center.

Furthermore, the center would assume all responsibilities for maintenance of the yurt and it could easily be removed if for some reason it needed to be taken down.

The cost of the project is still "up in the air," but will be finalized shortly after the approval process is finished, said Gabriel. Foster is currently working on applying for a grant that could help with costs.

The goal is to start construction "as soon as possible," preferable before the end of this year. Tennis Center staff will design the yurt and it will be built from the ground up.

"We hope to have it ready for classes toward the end of winter, to be honest," Gabriel said. "We really want this to be for the kids. We want them to feel really empowered, like it's their little clubhouse."

"We are both happy the town is supporting the building and the direction we're heading," Foster said.

Christie Wisniewski can be reached at cwisniewski@benningtonbanner.com and at 802-447-7567, ext. 111.

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