There may never have been a negative vote with more positive vibes.
The Community Preservation Committee last week voted against recommending allocating $173,160 for construction of courts to play pickleball.
Proponents who spoke at the committee’s virtual meeting and submitted letters of endorsement cited the sport’s exponential growth in popularity, its socialization value, its exercise option, especially for older players.
But they did not propose a specific site. And until a location is ascertained, the committee felt it couldn’t support spending the money. For one thing, specific costs are tied to specific sites, because of issues like drainage.
“It’s very unusual for us to get this level of interest,” said Margot Fleischman, Select Board representative on the committee. “It’s certainly consistent with our mission but missing a foundational piece of information.”
As they voted against advancing it, committee members were effusive in their praise for the proposal. Several of the six members present, rather than voting “no,” used the wording “not yet.”
And they also suggested actions that could fast-track the plan back to the committee. For example, Robin Steele, the Recreation Commission representative on the committee, said she will make sure the search for a court is on the next commission agenda.
Pickleball is a racquet sport that is sort of a combination of tennis and ping-pong. The court is about half the size of a tennis court and players use a wooden paddle with a ball with holes, like a wiffleball.
Last year the town approved community preservation funds on lighting for the tennis courts near John Glenn Middle School, which was requested by pickleball players. Also, available funds were used to add lines and netting to facilitate pickleball contests at town tennis facilities.
And indeed, the competitors are out there – last week, an hour past sunset with temperature in the 20s, the courts at the high school were replete, echoing with the distinctive sounds of pickleball volleys.
Amy Fidalgo, Assistant Town Manager of Operations, said this is the kind of project that is reviewed by town departments, with input from residents. “It needs to come from the inside out.” Steele agreed, adding, “Let the process happen now.”
Committee Chair Lauren Crews, Housing Authority representative, said before approval of funding, the project needs to be endorsed by “town stakeholders,” like the schools and the Department of Public Works. “It’s a great idea in general but the specifics matter,” she said.
Most of the advocates who spoke at the virtual meeting were all between the ages of 69 and 75.
Mark Pearson, who sent a rough schematic to the committee suggesting construction of a court between Wilson and Sabourin Fields, commented, “We shouldn’t have to share with the tennis folks” With his site idea, “I was just trying to move the needle. What’s the next step?”
Another resident, Ed Gray, coordinates one of three official local pickleball groups. “We have had 100 different people play in recent months,” he said, with 25 playing four nights a week, other groups three nights or fewer. “There are a lot of people who are affected by this,” he said. “It has been a godsend during the pandemic, when there is very limited recreation activity indoors.”
He added, “Folks are ready to work with the town in evaluating sites and providing perspective of the players.”
Alice Sun called the courts “an urgent need.” She suggested space next to the skate park behind Town Center, or elsewhere in the central campus so middle and high school physical education classes could use them. Fidalgo said the director of athletics has been “part of the conversation.”
Richard Andelman, who is in his 50s, noted that pickleball in Bedford has been “intergenerational. It is great to see people playing together at different ages and abilities, socializing together. There’s a community aspect.” Chip Roth told the committee, “It’s a nice way to meet other people in Bedford.”
“Members of the pickleball community will contribute whatever is needed,’” said John Romeo. “Some very compelling arguments have been made for this project.”
“I think the process has begun,” Fleischman responded. “Someone comes with a great idea and it needs to be fleshed out. You need to appropriate enough money to do the project; otherwise you have to go back to town meeting. So it’s efficient to wait until you know you can spend it right away.”
Fidalgo added, “I feel comfortable all departments are aware that we need to evaluate. “It’s very clear that this is now a focus of the Fields Partnership, with the schools and Public Works.”
Fleischman drafted one scenario: “Give ourselves to our next funding opportunity in November to get more concrete information.” Fidalgo said she already has asked the town engineer to “run some rough numbers.” She pointed out that the community preservation funding runs on a multi-year plan, so the Select Board and town meeting would have to “reprioritize projects committed for the next two years. We get a great deal of pushback on projects that are added last-minute.”
Pearson asked about alternative funding sources, but Fidalgo pointed out that many such projects begin on the town’s capital plan, and any that are eligible are then channeled to community preservation for funding. Fleischman concurred: “This is the most appropriate project source of funds.”
Mike Rosenberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 781-983-1763