Above: The revised pickleball court plan for Academy Field presented to residents Monday night.
At a meeting with the newly established Friends of Academy Field Monday night, Town Manager Andy Nota and Community Services Director Andy Wade unveiled a revised plan for pickleball courts at Academy Field – instead of adding new freestanding pickleball courts next to the existing basketball courts, the new plan would replace one of the basketball courts with two pickleball courts.
The 35 or so residents in attendance appeared to like the new plan but some said they wished the town could have come to them earlier with the plan.
“Thank you for this meeting. It would have been a lot less stressful earlier,” said Paul McCaffery, who’s house abuts Academy Field.
The plan was unveiled last fall, when Wade applied for two Dept. of Environmental Management grants – one for new pickleball courts at Academy and one for changes at Eldredge Field. Wade needed Town Council approval before he could submit the applications since the town would be required to provide a 20 percent match for any grant awarded. It wasn’t until news that the town got both grants in May, however, that residents who live near Academy Field started asking questions.
For several residents, the proposed courts were new news – despite the grant applications having been on a Town Council agenda in December (which was reported HERE in December). They wondered why the town didn’t alert them, especially the direct abutters. Pickleball is very popular but its attendant noise has proved controversial. The sport is already being played on bring-your-own nets on the basketball courts now. Residents said they were okay with the current location. But the new courts would be closer to their homes and they were not okay with that.
When Wade originally brought the applications to the Town Council for approval, said Ed Cure, a Spring Street abutter, at the start of the meeting Monday, “there had not been any questions or discussion about the potential impact to residents, or any discussion or attempt to notify and seek input from nearby neighbors, other than the minimum required notification process associated with [a Town Council] meeting.”
Cure said he and others at the meeting “were not against change or even against pickleball,” noting that some in attendance even play the sport themselves.
After the new plan was presented, there were some questions – such as what type of barrier might be used (most likely a low fence at the ends of both courts to keep balls from going into the basketball court on one side and the street on the other) and why not build the courts at Eldredge instead (Nota said pickleball at Eldredge could happen at some point depending on recreation needs but especially with school construction plans now under discussion, he said it was best to wait until those decisions were made).
After the meeting, many residents expressed their relief the town was willing to change the plan.
When asked about alerting nearby residents earlier in the process, Wade said the turnaround time for the grant applications was tight – just shy of two months – for a process that requires a fair amount of assessment of properties and needs, hours of grant writing, and getting on a Town Council agenda. Still, he said, “I tell you, if I’m going to do anything at Academy again, I’m going to do that.”
How quickly will the new courts be built? Wade said the town had two years to complete the project. “As final plans are developed, we will be able to begin to create a timeline.”