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The Parks Commission votes 4-1 in favor of locating the pickleball courts at Springside Park.

Pittsfield Eyes Development of Pickleball Courts at Springside Park

By Andy McKeeveriBerkshires Staff
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Pickleball plans put the city in a somewhat of a pickle.
The Parks Commission approved a plan to develop pickleball courts near the Doyle Softball Complex in Springside Park but not without opposition. The approval goes against the Springside Park Conservancy's wishes that the project take a backburner to others specifically outlined in the park's master plan. 
"The consensus of the board toward the proposal for the city to invest in a facility of this kind at Springside Park is not favorable. It is our view, by unanimous vote, that such a development at this time is fundamentally inconsistent with the spirit of and specific guidelines of the established park master plan," reads a letter signed by conservancy leaders April Discoe-Keough, Esther Bolen, Mark Tully, and Bernie Mack. 
The letter continues to read, "it is our feeling that the next priority to be considered for Springside should be the restoration of the pond area. A preliminary study has been funded and completed, with very good ideas for remediation of this very visible and important area of the park. It is the view of the conservancy board, on behalf of the member organizations represented therein, that this particular time, major capital investments at Springside should focus on this and  the rest of the backlog of needs outlined in the master plan."
Parks Commissioner and former Conservancy President Joe Durwin said the city's implementation of the master plan, which the Parks Commission adopted in 2016, has been lagging. He sided with the conservancy saying he'd rather see the priorities outlined in that plan receive more emphasis than the more recent push for pickleball courts.
"There is no way I can support a plan for Springside that favors a group, that gives one group what they need and want, but kind of rolls over another neighborhood group," Durwin said.
Springside Park was identified by Berkshire Design Group as the top location for pickleball courts. The company evaluated a number of sites throughout the city and narrowed its focus to Springside and on Lebanon Avenue and then drew conceptual plans for the development of eight courts at each location. 
The city's Parks Department had received a total of $15,000 in Community Preservation Act funds for the work done so far and for the development of construction specifications and cost estimates to have a bid-ready package at the chosen site. A number of sites were looked at and the Benedict Road location proved to be the best according to the evaluation criteria.
"The one on Benedict Road is a perfect site for us. You can't get better than that. Why there is opposition, I don't know?" said Mike Gilardi of the Berkshire Mountain Pickleball Club.
Gilardi said it is already a sports complex and there are bathrooms on site whereas the Lebanon Avenue site raised issues with conservation land. 
Pickleball has been an increasingly popular sport and a large group of residents has been playing it at tennis courts in the city. The city had relined those to make it work but it isn't quite right for the game. Further, the group is hoping to hold tournaments and bring in pickleball clubs from elsewhere and more courts are needed. 
Parks and Open Spaces Manager James McGrath said all parks were evaluated. He highlighted a few other locations that would seem to work but ultimately had more challenges. Marchisio Park presented issues with wetlands and buffer zones because of a nearby stream as well as limited space, Kirvin Park is in Article 97 conservation and would require the state to allow the courts to be built, and Clapp Park is just months away from being reconstructed, he said. 
"It is not just a matter of building one or two pickleball courts. The intent of this proposal is to site multiple pickleball courts," McGrath said.
Durwin, however, said there may be other locations than Springside Park that could work better for the courts. He urged the commission to see all of the criteria and rankings before making a choice. 
"I think we may be able to find a better spot where there is less community resistance," Durwin said.
Parks Commissioner Clifford Nilan, however, said evaluation work has already been done. He, too, said the Benedict Road location is fitting for the courts. 
"It has parking. It is in a nice area. The people who are active in pickleball would like it there. I think it meets all of the requirements," he said.
Nilan said the restoration of Springside House, which is part of the park's master plan, is receiving significant capital funds. He added that the pickleball court location in the park doesn't take away from those other efforts in the master plan. The location next to the water tower has previously been disturbed and doesn't offer much for other uses. 
"This land doesn't really affect the long-range plan of Springside Park at all," Nilan said.
Commissioner Simon Muil agrees that the location for pickleball courts and capital funds for Springside Park are separate issues. The pickleball courts don't have capital funds secured for construction yet and both the conservancy's projects and the pickleball court can both seek funding at the same time. 
"If we were looking to not do the upgrade to the pond and pushing that aside and building the pickleball courts, then I think that would be a valid point," he said.
Durwin, however, contends that the two are inherently linked because of the lack of resources. He said it is the city's Parks Department that is seeking capital funding for both projects and he believes the city should be siding with the longer standing conservancy's plans for the park.
"It is more about priorities, usage, and the identity of what we are saying we are doing with Springside Park," Durwin said.
Durwin, however, was the sole vote against using Springside Park while the rest agreed to give the go-ahead for Berkshire Design to continue the development of construction plans for the project. 
McGrath said a funding source hasn't been determined for the actual project but once Berkshire Design Group finishes its work, the city can look for ways to fund the construction.

Tags: parks & rec,   parks commission,   Springside Park,   

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