Special Parks & Recreation Board meeting Tuesday evening in the Civic Center.

The Evanston Parks and Recreation board is urging City Council to include new pickleball courts in the 2024 budget.

“Our community members are saying we want pickleball,” Parks & Rec Director Audrey Thompson told a special board meeting on Tuesday night.

The board agreed, putting pickleball courts on the list of top ten priorities, even though, as board chair Robert Bush said, “we don’t know where to put them and we don’t know how much it will cost.”

Still, the fast-growing sport is one of the “top three amenities desired by Evanston residents,” according to the Parks Strategic Plan.

“The squeaky wheel gets the oil,” said board member Donald Michelin. “We need to address pickleball.”

Thompson noted that one possible location could be in James Park, but “away from houses” and the “thwack-thwack” of the paddle hitting the ball, which can drive neighbors crazy.

The city currently has about half a dozen outdoor pickleball courts, and around the same number indoors.

Pickleball was just one of many items discussed, as the board analyzed several million dollars’ worth of potential projects it would like to see funded.

Evanston has 88 parks, and 11 of them are considered “legacy parks,” which is a polite way of saying they’re in hurtin’ shape.

The city defines legacy parks as “parks with playgrounds with no substantial improvements made for at least 26 years; infrastructure has deteriorated to the point where upgrading one amenity is not practical because other items do not meet modern requirements such as ADA [Americans With Disabilities Act] or playground safety requirements.”

City Engineer Lara Biggs has drawn up a Five-Year Capital Improvements Plan, which calls for $58.6 million in park and rec construction and renovation between 2024 and 2028, for multiple facilities, not just the legacy parks.

The Park Board put that long-term plan on its wish list as well, focusing now on the $4.2 million suggested for legacy parks in 2024. That $4.2 million is for work or consulting on Cartwright Park, Chandler Tot Lot, Fitzsimons Park, Independence Park, Larimer Park, and Philbrick Park. Some of the work will be completed next year, but some of the projects will take longer.

Larimer Park is one of the “legacy parks” slated for potential renovation.

The five other legacy parks (Clyde-Brummel, Hobart, Porter, Raymond, and Southwest) would be fixed up by 2028, if, of course, City Council buys in to the plan.

The board also wants council to buy into building two dog parks next year (Clark Square and Grey Park), not just one (Grey) as in Biggs’ capital proposal.

Other items on the park board’s top ten include hiring more maintenance staff, renovating the kitchen at the Levy Center, upgrading the Chandler gym and the Bent Park fieldhouse, and adding at least four new restrooms a year in park and/or rec facilities.

Working on the Park, Board’s top ten list for 2024 projects.

Many of the items on Biggs’ Five-Year Plan are outside the scope of Parks and Rec, and were not discussed at the meeting, such as $60 million for “Police/Fire HQ Improvements/Construction” in 2025 and 2026.

Total price tag for the Five-Year-Plan, parks, rec, other city buildings is more than $265 million.

The 2024 capital spending in Biggs’ proposal would be about $28 million for parks and non-park projects, and pickleball is not even included.

Council takes up the 2024 capital budget later this month.

A footnote in the report to the park board, on the last page, splashed some cold water onto the ambitious wish list.

“2024 Proposed Budget,” it said, “is a list of needs. It far exceeds what current staffing and funding can support. City Council will need to establish priorities.”

Talk about being in a pickle.

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Join the Conversation


  1. Imagine all the parks that could have been created with the $3 million currently being spent on the participatory budget. We could have enjoyed these parks for at least 10-15 years. Instead, we are left with nothing that will provide lasting investments for the city

    1. I agree with Willie. The participatory budgeting pet project is a waste of money. I’ve received a dozen emails begging me to vote and if I have zero interest, that means few other Evanstonians do. Meanwhile, toddlers are playing on swing sets that are at least 26 years old. When we moved to Evanston, my current high schooler was a few months old. The first playground he visited as a baby was Raymond Park and it was decrepit then. He’ll graduate from ETHS before that non-ADA-compliant relic is renovated. I do question prioritizing two dog parks. I’d prefer to see the funds go towards parks for humans, thus reducing the number of park renovations that have to wait until 2028.

  2. Evanston has zero dedicated pickleball courts. This article is referring to tennis courts that have pickleball lines with a net that is at tennis regulations height. That is not a pickleball court. The city needs to be smarter about how it uses current tennis courts to create space for pickleball courts. It’s doable without spending a lot more money. The indoor courts mentioned are at the Robert Crown Center, and they have very limited hours for indoor pickleball as well as non-dedicated pickleball areas, which are not free. None of the options currently available are appropriate. Parks are not just for the use and enjoyment of kids or dogs. Wake up, Evanston! You are not that progressive. Times are changing and pickleball is on the rise while tennis is fading. Figure it out.

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