City Council this week approved a deal with the Blair County Pickleball Club that will see the group begin an $85,000 transformation of two tennis courts in Garfield Park into six pickleball courts.
Work by Baltimore contractor ACT CORP will begin soon and be completed in early June, according to club treasurer Bruce Leavens, who attended the board meeting.
The club raised funds for the project from members and local businesses, having obtained permission for the project from the Central Blair Recreation & Park Commission last May, after the commission asked the court to determine whether the players tennis would oppose it.
There will be many more pickleball players in Garfield after the work is completed than there ever were tennis players, said Hope Sheehan, who was on the tennis courts Tuesday night, waiting for friends arrive to play pickleball using temporary nets this club players have moved in and out over the past two years.
At full capacity, the six permanent courts will be able to accommodate up to 24 players at a time, compared to a maximum of eight for tennis.
There are 154 club members, and they will play every weekday at Garfield once the project is complete, Leavens said.
The heaviest use will be in good weather from 7:30 a.m. to noon and from late afternoon until evening, Leavens said.
Pickleball is the fastest growing sport in the United States, Sheehan said.
It’s a vehicle for healthy activity and easy socializing, and it’s suitable for people of all skill levels, she said.
Many former tennis players returned to the sport as they got older, including Dave Berry, who arrived shortly after Sheehan on Tuesday to play.
Now 74, he started playing tennis in high school, with significant success.
“Pickleball is an answer to my prayers,” Barry said. It’s easy “skills transfer”.
After the post cement is in place, ACT workers will lay down leveling sealer and then several coats of special paint, according to Leavens.
Areas outside the courts will be red, areas behind the courts dark blue and areas closest to the net light blue, he said.
Although the club is paying for the project, the courts will remain the property of the city, according to the agreement.
Anytime “the courts are not used by the club”, they must be accessible to the public, in accordance with the agreement.
The club shall plan its reserved use of the courts with the recreation committee, in accordance with the agreement.
The club will only occupy the six courts 25% of the time when members are playing, Leavens guessed.
The agreement is for five years, with automatic one-year renewals thereafter, unless either party decides to terminate it – which can happen at any time, according to the agreement.
Termination requires 180 days notice.
The agreement releases the city from any liability for anything that happens in relation to the club’s use of the courts.
The club is expected to get permission from the city to make changes after the upcoming project is completed, according to the agreement.
Trees in the immediate vicinity of the land were felled in preparation for the project, including conifers at one end which provided shade.
This was unfortunately necessary, as shade and tree droppings have and will cause deterioration, Sheehan said.
She pointed to marks wherever divots due to moisture acting on tree droppings have been repaired.
Courts “were about to disintegrate into uselessness”, said Sheehan.
“It had to be done if we really want things to last,” she says.
Removing droppings and shade also eliminates slippery spots that frequently form in areas near conifers, she said.
One of the advantages of the Garfield courts is their distance from homes and businesses, so residents and patrons won’t be disturbed by the sound of paddles on plastic balls and balls bouncing on the court, said Sheehan.
In addition to approving the deal, the board approved a $2,300 grant from the city’s Goodman Trust recreation fund for landscaping around the courts, Leavens said.
Fundraising continues to secure money for fencing, lighting and a storage unit, according to the club’s application for the Goodman Trust grant.
The Mirror’s staff writer, William Kibler, is at 814-949-7038.