The hunt for a pickleball site continues in Wilmette. Is Community Playfield the one?
The Wilmette Park District, along with a number of residents, wants public pickleball courts in Wilmette. But the where and when have proven difficult to answer.
After reviewing pickeball possibilities at three parks, the Wilmette Park Board directed park staff on Monday, Feb. 13, to further research Community Playfield as a possible pickleball home.
In January, the commissioners narrowed its choices to Community Playfield, Centennial Park and Maple Park as possible locations for permanent pickleball courts. Those discussions continued at Monday’s meeting.
The meeting packet contained nearly 30 letters from community members on the topic. A majority of the letters opposed the installation of pickleball courts; the main difference in the letters being the park the author was defending.
Prior to their decision to focus on Community Playfield, commissioners heard from 26 residents, most of whom were pickleball players sharing their thoughts on the viability of the locations, concerns about noise and tree removal, and questions on why Wilmette still doesn’t have a permanent pickleball option.
Anne Hopkins said she was speaking on behalf of the Wilmette Pickleball Association, which has a Facebook group with 59 members. Hopkins talked about the benefits of the sport and said that while the group wants dedicated courts, they will also be happy with any solution.
“And we would really hope to have something by the summer, but we do want something that’s going to work best for the community, and so we are supporting that,” Hopkins said. “Hopefully, we can find a solution to have everyone feel good about having pickleball here in Wilmette.”
Murdock conceded that finding the right location to host the growing sport has been a challenging process. He added that West Park was the best location; however, after West Park neighbors loudly spoke against the plans to add pickleball, and the village’s Zoning Board of Appeals gave the district’s original plans a negative recommendation, the Park Board looked elsewhere.
Neighbors were concerned about the noise level of the sport, along with the park’s 20-year transformation into a recreation hub with the addition and growth of the paddle tennis facility.
At Monday’s meeting, Murdock firmly stated that West Park will not be considered for pickleball.
“We’ve moved on from that, and that’s fine,” he said. “That’s off the table and it’s not going back on the table.”
But he added that he feels Community Playfield has many similarities to West Park, including the fact that racket sports are played at both. Community Playfield features six tennis courts (two sets of three), athletic fields, a tot lot and fitness course.
“I see the same synergy at Community Playfield with respect to the tennis,” he said.
Commissioner Cecilia Clarke, who attended the meeting via telephone, agreed with Murdock about the activity congestion at Community Playfield. Because of that, she said, the park already produces a lot of noise and the additional of pickleball may not be as noticeable.
“Every weekend, you have all the noise from all the soccer games going on, the baseball games going on,” she said. “During the school year, you have all the noise from the children (at Wilmette Junior High and Highcrest Middle School) who are coming out at recess and who are there at lunch time … playing and yelling.
“I’m not sure really that pickleball noise is going to be all that much worse.”
A preliminary concept for Community Playfield features new dedicated pickleball courts to the north of the tennis courts on the west side of the park.
Commissioner Patrick Duffy also voiced support for more analysis of Community Playfield. He specifically said he’d like to learn more about parking concerns for the area, which was mentioned by some of the residents during public comment, and how many pickleball courts could be created from the current tennis courts.
“Let’s explore Community Playfield more,” he said.
Restriping tennis courts was an option brought up by some commissioners as a temporary solution. At the January meeting it was reported that tennis courts at Maple, Hibbard and Thornwood parks are either striped for pickleball or will be soon.
At the request of commissioners, Park District Executive Director Steve Wilson said he would prepare a report on temporary options for pickleball in both indoor and outdoor locations, which he expects to present at the Park Board’s committee of the whole meeting on Feb. 27.
Additionally, Commissioner Julia Goebel suggested that in the future the Park Board examine the feasibility of utilizing gyms in Wilmette School District 39 and Avoca School District 37 as indoor options for pickleball.
“Many of the children in District 39 and 37 are learning pickleball in gym,” she said. “We have ample gym space in the evening that isn’t often used in District 39 and 37. Can we explore an evening partnership?”
Commissioners also did not remove Centennial or Maple parks from their list of options.
Murdock stressed that while the board is exploring Community Playfield that does not mean it will be the final location for pickleball.
“And for us to take the next step forward with one or more of (the locations), that’s going to involve a significant amount of additional work and research,” he said, “cost estimates, taking a look at different sound strategies, perhaps parking, a number of other issues that were raised here.”
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Peter Kaspari is a blogger and a freelance reporter. A 10-year veteran of journalism, he has written for newspapers in both Iowa and Illinois, including spending multiple years covering crime and courts. Most recently, he served as the editor for The Lake Forest Leader. Peter is also a longtime resident of Wilmette and New Trier High School alumnus.