The Highlands Board of Commissioners recently approved the expansion and redesign of two tennis courts into six pickleball courts, doubling its size from the current three outdoor courts at the Highlands Recreation Center.
Park and Recreation Director Lester Norris said the fast growing popularity of pickleball and the signed petition including about 50 names of local pickleball enthusiasts, the decision was an easy one.
“Especially with COVID-19 and losing three of the indoor courts to the lockdown, there have been crowds waiting to get a game here,” he said.
Norris estimates between 30-40 pickleball players show up to play between the hours of 9:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. daily.
According to commission documents, the two tennis courts on the east side of the rec center campus will be reconfigured to accommodate pickleball. Because the pickleball court is smaller and narrower three pickleball courts can fit on each side of the tennis net, doubling the available courts from three to six.
“The existing courts would need to be extended 10 feet toward the drive, which would allow for the construction of six designated pickleball courts,” Norris said during the Sept 22 meeting.
Local pickleball enthusiast Pamela Johnson said the expansion of available pickleball courts was inevitable.
“Doubling the current number of courts will prevent overcrowding of the recreation (department) facilities and help insure safety of play,” she said. “The COVID concerns of social distancing can be upheld better – a win for our community.”
Johnson cites fellowship as much as exercise as causes of the sport’s meteoric rise in popularity.
“Having six dedicated courts will allow more interaction,” she said. “We could host fundraising tournaments for the local community.
Johnson called pickleball a true sport for all ages, and an enthusiast group of picklers is always a good thing for a healthy, happy town that hosts many vacationers.
The cost to reconfigure the courts would be $125,000, which includes taking out the fence, removing existing surface material and extending the courts to the 120-foot length needed.
Norris said the plan is to resurface the two courts which will include three inches of new stone, two inches of asphalt binder and one inch of I2 asphalt for the six courts with a new black vinyl-coated chain-link fence.
“The courts would be light green outside the pickleball courts and the courts themselves would be blue with white lines to match the tennis courts, and a four foot tall separation fence between the a butting ends of the courts with two four foot walk through to access all courts.” Norris said in commission documents.
According to Town Manager Josh Ward, in a memo to the Board of Commissioners, several capital items were removed from the budget to prepare for a potential shortfall in revenue due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Highlands has been fortunate to continue with a strong economy during this difficult time,” Ward said in the memo. The Town’s revenues have remained stable.”
Norris said work could begin on retrofitting the tennis courts for pickleball as early as Oct. 5.
“We want to have work crews come in and tear the fence down on the week of Oct. 5, and then on the week of Oct. 12, crews would come in tear up the old asphalt, tamp the area down and lay new asphalt.”
After the new asphalt is installed, it must cure for 30 days before being ready to paint, but that’s provided the temperature remains above 50 degrees.
“We’re hoping to get as much done as we can before the weather turns colder, so we don’t have to do it all next spring,” Norris said.
Norris also said some of the dead hemlock trees are planned to be removed and a wild volunteer tree growing among the hydrangeas.
During the interim, and during rainy days, there are three pickleball courts open in the gym for play.
“When it rains, they come inside to play, though some are a little uncomfortable with that because of COVID,” Norris said.