Challenged to demonstrate their commitment to their sport, players in the Litchfield pickleball league wasted little time.
On July 6, the league delivered an overhead smash of sorts — telling the Litchfield City Council it had collected more than $26,000 in donations to support construction of a pickleball facility in the city.
“Three short weeks ago, we were here and stating our case, trying to encourage the community to engage in a permanent facility for pickleball,” Jason Tibbits, who represented the players, told the City Council. “We feel we have done a very good job of raising those funds.”
Tibbits said that the players “worked our backsides off,” in gaining financial commitments from several businesses in the city. Among the most significant supporters, Tibbits said, was First District Association, which has a strong interest in positive developments at South Park, the area proposed for the pickleball facility and just south of the cooperative’s massive dairy processing facility.
The pickleball group first appeared before the City Council on June 15, requesting that the city create designated courts at South Park, where there are currently two little-used and “dilapidated” tennis courts. Working with city administration, the group said, they had determined the cost to convert the two tennis courts into four pickleball courts to be $60,000.
Council members expressed concern that the city already had made commitments to two other large projects — Optimist Park improvements and Litchfield Golf Club upgrades — as well hearing a third request for a dog park.
Mayor Keith Johnson told the pickleball group that they could help their cause by fundraising. Several city improvements, such as the splash pad at Lake Ripley, have been accomplished by the interested group “partnering” with the city and sharing in the cost. In the case of the splash pad, it was the Litchfield Rotary Club providing about half the cost of the project. Meanwhile, the Litchfield Baseball Association has committed to sharing in the cost of the proposed Optimist Park upgrades.
Tibbits told the Council that some additional funds may still be coming in, but the pickleball group were pleased with their fundraising efforts, especially given the challenges that many businesses and individuals have faced as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. There were some businesses interested in supporting the pickleball facility, but “because of financial difficulties could not make a donation,” he said.
“I applaud these people for (in) three weeks getting this much money,” Johnson said.
The pickleball effort also came with a slight change in plan. City Administrator David Cziok, writing in a memo to the City Council, proposed that the pickleball courts be built about 45 east of the existing tennis courts at South Park.
“It seems the most logical solution is to keep the tennis courts where they are and add pickleball courts …,” the memo said. “The recommendation submitted by the pickleball group is feasible. The city of Litchfield should be able to install some very nice courts for the range considered by the group.”
Further study indicated the cost for the new pickleball courts to be closer to $50,000. Therefore, Council member Ron Dingmann resolved that administration execute a plan to move forward with an authorized spending limit of $50,000.