Recreation Commission Endorses Pickleball; Fields Partnership Seeks Site

The Recreation Commission this week endorsed construction of a four-court pickleball complex and dispatched the concept to the Fields Partnership to settle on a location.

The proposal, advanced by an organized group of pickleball aficionados, is on a fast track, emerging favorably from the Community Preservation Committee less than two weeks ago before arriving on Recreation’s agenda.

Community Preservation, however, did not approve funding, making that contingent on identifying a site.

Recreation Commission Chair Robin Steele said that, if a suitable location can be identified, the Community Preservation Committee could recommend the plan as soon as the November special town meeting warrant,

The Fields Partnership is a staff panel composed of town department representatives involved with managing playing fields: public works, schools, recreation, and the town manager’s office.

Recreation Director Amy Hamilton is a member, and she told her commission she will advance the pickleball cause at the next meeting. She added that at some point the Recreation Department “should consider what we may be able to contribute financially. This seems to align with other projects.”

Pickleball is a racquet sport that combines tennis and ping-pong. Players use wooden paddles to strike a ball whose velocity is limited because it has holes.

Town meeting last year approved modifications to tennis courts that would facilitate pickleball. Now the players are stepping up their advocacy; Steele, the recreation representative on the Community Preservation Committee, said about 40 residents sent letters of support.

Mark Pearson: a charter member of the pickleball group, told the virtual meeting that the space required is slightly larger than a single tennis court. The tennis dimensions are 120 by 60 feet; the pickleball complex ideally would measure 130 by 64, he said.

“Our group is going to put together a list of all possible sites,” he said, enumerating come of the criteria that will be considered: proximity to residences, electricity source, centrality, parking, proximity to other recreation areas, the status of trees. Hamilton advised that the more sites proposed, the better, noting that there’s an existing list of town property used during the futile search for a suitable dog park site four years ago.

The players’ group is calling for courts somewhere on the central campus, which would make them accessible to high and middle school physical education classes. Hamilton counseled that the group consider all areas, not just the campus.

“There are a number of groups that want to site things at the municipal complex,” she pointed out. “We have to look around and see what we have available. Look for sites that are clear of trees – the fewer barriers the better. We have to make a concerted effort to see what property there is, what would be easiest to develop.”

Pearson said his group wanted to narrow its list to the three top choices, but Hamilton thought that could be counterproductive. “There’s a finite amount of space, and I don’t want to see the project squelched because of that,” she stated. “Sometimes it kills projects when we are not looking at all the options. I think we should look more globally so we can do it more quickly.”

The group’s original pitch for Community Preservation funding in 2020 “asked for four courts, but ideally we could use five or six courts,” said Pearson. “It’s very social, so it’s nice having all the courts in one spot.”

Commission member Julie Halloran asked whether an existing tennis court could be converted, but the director advised against taking from one constituency to satisfy another.

Hamilton also opposed making lighting non-negotiable. “If you wait for lights, the project will be delayed,” she said. Currently, pickleball players use lighted tennis courts to play; Hamilton said that should suffice for the short term.

Neighbors of a site will oppose illuminated courts, said commission members Mike O’Donnell and Steele. She also noted that there is a product that can be installed on fencing to absorb noise.

Hamilton asserted that the long-term demand is irrelevant. “Look at the skate park. Say in five years kids stop using it. I would say a 25-year run was a great use of the money,” she said. “It has been proven that the pickleball demand is here and there’s reason to believe it is not a flash in the pan.”

“From a programming perspective, we support it,” said member Ron Richter. “The demand is there, no question.”

Mike Rosenberg can be reached at mike@thebedfordcitizen.org, or 781-983-1763


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