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.
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.
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.