Where should London put pickleball courts?

(Posted March 27, 2024)

By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor

The city of London is looking to install pickleball courts, but where should they go?

The current proposal is to place them at Cowling Park where the basketball court once stood, southeast of the playground and shelter house. Some residents who live near the park think that’s a bad idea.

Ciera Bierbaugh, whose property sits adjacent to the park and close to the proposed pickleball site, voiced her opposition at city council’s March 21 meeting.

“Cowling Park is where, currently, families can let their children play without too much of a safety concern, and it’s where community events are held. I know that placing a sport such as pickleball at the park will draw a much rowdier and more adult crowd. This would be taking away from the safety of children and families,” Bierbaugh said.

She also expressed concerns about parking and noise. Limited parking spaces at the park are already an issue, she said. She worries the problem will worsen if the pickleball courts draw crowds. As for noise, she anticipates players will be boisterous to the point of excessive or offensive noise, a violation of the city’s noise ordinance. She also cited reports nationwide about noise problems associated with the high decibel levels that result when the paddle hits the ball in pickleball.

“I don’t hate pickleball. I just think there are better places for it,” Bierbaugh said, suggesting the city consider Merri-Mac Park.

Rob Treynor, who lives next door to Bierbaugh, shares some of Bierbaugh’s concerns, including worry about decibel levels. He also mentioned to council possible drainage issues at the proposed spot at Cowling Park. Additionally, he said installation of courts would take away from the park’s green space, and tall fencing around the courts would impact the park’s beauty.

Resident David Mars advocated for locating the pickleball courts at Merri-Mac Park. He is active with Merri-Mac Park Miracle, a non-profit group working to bring improvements to the park. While he and his family enjoy Cowling Park and live just a block from it, he said he would like to see as much energy put into improving Merri-Mac Park as has been put into Cowling Park to make it a destination not only for people who live near the park but all London residents and visitors from outside the area.

Location considerations

Rex Castle, London’s safety-service director, and Landon McKenzie, the city’s parks and recreation director, explained that they proposed Cowling Park for the pickleball courts because the park already has restrooms, electricity, and security cameras. McKenzie also noted that the asphalt left from the former basketball court in the proposed spot is in poor shape, making it a “dead spot” in the park.

McKenzie said they considered three other locations: an area in the north part of Cowling Park, across from the hospital; between the parking lot and ball diamond off of Columbia Avenue; and an undetermined spot in Merri-Mac Park. These options lacked some of the utilities the proposed spot already has in place. One of the main considerations was restrooms, said Councilman Michael Norman. To build new ones at any of these other locations would add significant cost to the project, he said.

Norman and Councilman Greg Eades said they appreciated the concerns citizens raised about the proposed location at Cowling Park, saying some of those concerns were ones they had not considered.

Audience members and council members offered up possible solutions to make Merri-Mac Park a location for the courts. Mars said the park needs restrooms with or without the courts. He suggested the city incorporate restrooms into the pickleball court plans and said Merri-Mac Park Miracle could help with funding. Portable toilets were another suggestion. Eades said Berliner Park, a large outdoor sports complex in Columbus, functions well with portable toilets.

Cost and next steps

McKenzie said the estimated cost to install the three pickleball courts at Cowling Park is approximately $115,000. He said that cost would probably be the roughly the same if the courts were placed at one of the other locations. He said he does not have an estimated cost to build permanent restrooms. He noted the approximate cost for portable toilets is $140 per month per unit.

Norman sponsored legislation, introduced at the March 21 council meeting, to set aside funding for the project. McKenzie explained that $60,000 would come from the parks and playground fund, $40,000 would come from the general fund, and $15,000 would come from the existing parks and recreation budget.

Ultimately, council voted to leave the funding request on first reading. The second reading will take place at council’s next meeting set for April 4 at 6:30 p.m. The project will be part of discussions at two committee meetings before then: public service on April 9 at 5 p.m. and finance on April 15 at 5:30 p.m. All of these meetings will take place at city hall, 20 S. Walnut St.

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