Over a dozen pickleball enthusiasts came to the Bayside Activity Center on Thursday, May 24 to meet with representatives of the parks and recreation committee.
This second meeting of the Colchester pickleball group was a chance for parks and rec staffers Glenn Cuttitta and Mike LaPan to brainstorm solutions with an active community that is concerned about the shortage of courts in town for the fastest-growing sport in the country.
All town parks have tennis courts that double as pickleball courts. They also have a reservation system, but committee members think it doesn’t serve the high demand for their sport.
Part of the problem is the system is designed for tennis, where a two-hour block is usually an appropriate amount of time for a singles or double match; with pickleball, the games are much shorter and attract larger groups that rotate in and out of matches while creating a social scene on the sidelines. Another problem is simply the high demand for limited court space, the groups says.
“We need a concept that we can target,” pickleballer Jim LeClair said. “How can we transform two or three tennis courts into four to six pickleball courts?”
With that in mind, the group has set its sights on Airport Park to expand pickleball. The park has two of the least used tennis courts that could be converted to four pickleball playing areas.
To accomplish this, the group suggested ideas ranging from temporary nets rolled out during high-traffic pickleball hours to permanently rededicating the courts to pickleball.
“Everyone here seems to be in agreement to do something at Airport Park,” LeClair said. “We have a laser-focused goal and a group willing to fundraise.”
Cuttitta assured the group that fundraising will be necessary.
Cuttitta assured the group that fundraising will be necessary. Phase one of the proposed $1.9 million Bayside Park/Bayside-Hazelett Master Plan includes building more pickleball courts. Based on the master plan, Cuttitta estimates that building four pickleball courts alone could cost $300,000.
With these prices in mind, the conversation returned to temporarily converting the Airport Park courts using portable nets for $120 – $250 apiece, an affordable solution as the group tries to focus on a more permanent goal.
But the pickleball community wants to make sure it’s not burdening the town with a tax increase.
“We need an entity,” resident Wayne Davis said, addressing that the pickleball group has no official capacity or a non-profit designation.
He wondered whether the group could create a 501c3 to solicit tax deductible funds to sway large donors.
“We are concerned, motivated people who want to help,” he said.
Others asked about corporate sponsorship or advertising at the courts, which they felt would be attractive barter for some of the donations they hoped to collect.
“We have never really explored that opportunity in town,” Cuttitta said. “That isn’t a ‘no,’ but the town would have to create a policy. Whenever fundraising is involved, moving fast is a challenge, but it certainly helps that you folks are willing to put the sweat into it.”
Although the timeline is murky, the meeting attendees are motivated to establish Colchester as a recreation destination for the regional pickleball community.
In the meantime, the focus is on using temporary nets to double the pickleball capacity in Airport Park, a solution that may even be realized this summer.