Town Council action to approve the appropriation for new tennis courts at New Canaan High School failed Thursday night because of a lack of the required number of votes.

Six members voted in favor and three against; three members were absent. However, seven votes are required for the appropriation to pass.

The most vocal dissent for the project came from Councilman Robert Hamill.

"I'm really having trouble with a $460,000 bond, especially since we just did a $14 million bond for town hall," he said. The Board of Finance on Tuesday approved a bond issue of $14.8 million for the renovations to New Canaan Town Hall.

The money for the six-court project was first considered in July, but several council members had concerns and questions. The council decided to postpone action so Recreation Director Steve Benko could return with more information.

The major question at the July meeting was whether the town could charge a user fee to help pay for the project. On Thursday, Benko said the town could by using the same technology now in place at the Spencer's Run dog park, which has a lock system that can be opened by people who've paid for and been given a PIN. He estimated 300 memberships could be sold at $30 a piece to play on the tennis courts. However, he said, given the cost of having an attendant at the courts, the revenue would be nominal.

Council Chairman Mark DeWaele suggested a system in which the courts would remain open to the public but the $30 fee would allow residents to reserve court time and print out or access those reservations via their phones. He estimated that under that system, the Recreation Department could raise $10,000 a year.

Built in 1997, the courts outside the high school have seen the wear and tear of 16 seasons. Major crack repair and repainting took place in 2010 and additional refurbishment took place in 2011 and 2012. Benko said the life expectancy for courts is 15 to 18 years, though the letter he provided to the council from the sales and development officer of the Cape and Island Tennis & Track company in Massachusetts had life expectancy at 16 to 20 years.

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While the courts may look fine now, Benko said, they are full of hairline cracks. During the winter, as the ground water freezes and melts and expands and contracts underneath the courts, those hairline cracks will turn into bigger ones, he said.

Benko would like to replace the courts with post-tensioned concrete, which is the newest technology. Cables run in a grid beneath the concrete, which has the effect of keeping the courts as a single entity, reducing cracks.

Over 20 years, the cost of the courts would be the same, about $512,000, according to Benko. With the post-tension concrete process, more of the cost is upfront, but no money for repairs is expected in the first 20 years. Traditional asphalt courts, which cost about half as much, but would require about the same repair expense over that period of time.

Hamill was visibly surprised when Benko said he'd discussed with Assistant Director of Public Works Tiger Mann the possibility that fewer streets could be repaved in order to make room in the budget for the courts.

"There are roads that are busted up out there that aren't getting paved for another year. For tennis courts?" Hamill asked.

Benko said Mann felt the roads were in good enough shape to forego some paving for a year.

Council member Christine Hussey warned her colleagues that a vote against the court project would be tantamount to kicking the can down the road.

"Costs go up, they don't ever go down," she said. "I'd like to see us do it once, do it right and do it now. We have a history of just pushing it off and I don't think that's wise."

twoods@bcnnew.com; 203-330-6582; @Woods_NCNews