Pittsfield officials make play to save pickleball plans

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PITTSFIELD — Councilors preliminarily approved $35,000 in community preservation funds for a controversial pickleball project on Monday, ensuring the volley over its fate continues.

The vote came from members of the council's Finance Committee, which approved the funds for the project and 11 others as part of $581,118 in spending under the Community Preservation Act.

Council President Peter Marchetti also promised during the Monday meeting to work with Mayor Linda Tyer on a special order that could revive pickleball funds cut by councilors last week.

"I think it's important that we do what we can to help this process continue," he said.

At stake is the local portion required to apply for a state grant, which would largely fund the $350,000 pickleball project proposed at Springside Park. The City Council voted last week to cut funds for the facility — $52,500, which is half of the needed match — from the capital budget, citing concerns from residents about bringing pickleball to Springside Park.

Springside advocates have argued the pickleball facility would infringe upon the passive park and take away from available resources to support it.

Councilors approved the $35,272 in pickleball funding on Monday under the stipulation that either a compromise be reached between the city and park advocates or the city will pursue another location.

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Marchetti said the goal is to allow the city to move forward with the grant application, due at the beginning of July. Jim McGrath, the city's parks and natural resource program manager had told councilors at the beginning of the meeting that he had abandoned the idea of applying for it given the city hadn't been able to line up its required local match.

In the end, McGrath said he thought Marchetti's plan could work and that he would write about the city's trials and tribulations with the project in the grant application.

"It's absolutely a narrative that would be compelling, I think," he said.

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The full council will take a final vote on the community preservation budget next week. City councilors can't add money to projects or add new projects to the list, but they can decide to reduce funding for certain projects or decide to scrap a project altogether.

In addition to the community preservation funding, Marchetti said he would try to bring a measure that could restore capital funds for the pickleball project before councilors next week.

Councilor at Large Earl Persip said he wanted to devise a way to set aside the pickleball funds without attaching them to Springside Park.

"I don't want to see these people lose out in the pickleball funds because of the site selection," he said.

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McGrath told Persip the city is willing to reexamine its selection process "to make certain that we hit all the right marks." Still, he said, "I'm not saying Springside is off the table."

McGrath said the city will wait until it has enough funds to move forward with the project as originally intended — he said he's not looking to build a second-rate set of pickleball courts.

"We're looking to build a premier facility in this city that we can all be proud of," he told councilors.

Pickleball is a paddle sport played on a tennis court that also combines elements of Ping-Pong and badminton.

In addition to teaching the wider community about the sport, McGrath said planning for this project has been wrought with larger lessons.

"There's something to be learned through this," he said.

Amanda Drane can be contacted at adrane@berkshireeagle.com, @amandadrane on Twitter,and 413-496-6296.


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