FM Pickleball Association wants to raise funds to replace lighted tennis courts with six pickleball courts
BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON - The ball is rolling.
The Fort Madison Park board held a special meeting Wednesday in Fort Madison Council Chambers to discuss the possibility of moving forward with an organization's plans to fund six pickleball courts in Victory Field.
The Fort Madison Pickleball Association, spearheaded by Fort Madison City Councilwoman Donna Amandus submitted plans for the six courts where the current tennis courts are at the park in the center of town.
The board's recommendation would go to the Fort Madison City Council for final approval.
Several members of the Park board pushed back on the plan before - and after - the plan was approved by a 4-2 vote.
"I'm feeling like were getting bowled over a little bit," Park Board member Joshua Leyh said.
"I understand you folks are raising money and that's great and it's going to be awesome. But I've been to the high school and it's been locked at times when I go to play tennis. It's not just something that's open to the public all the time.
Leyh said the city should get an agreement with Fort Madison and Holy Trinity Catholic high schools for public use of the courts.
"I think this is going to be great, but I think we need something written. I'd be willing to jump on this if we had that."
Board chair Jim Decker agreed with Leyh, and also said the city needs to get behind the association's efforts to rehab the space in Victory Park.
"I understand there are 10 other tennis courts in town the public can use. But that out there is an eyesore. It's doing nothing. It's a mess, and the pickleball people want to do something and fund raise and put pickleball courts in there," Decker said.
Mark Bousselot said the overlay on the current tennis courts can be pulled back to evaluate the base. The overlay has damage in several spots, and Bousselot said the net poles don't line up with holes in the surface.
He said parks manager Andrew McFall was advising a partial peel of the overlay to look at the subsurface.
"Andrew is advising you can pull back 1/2 to 3/4 of it to see what's underneath it. At this point what's there can be stretched back over the surface for $10,000 to 15,000, but if it comes completely off obviously that option is out the window," Bousselot said.
Decker said he didn't support partially peeling back the overlay and said the city should just take it off.
Amandus said Mayor Matt Mohrfeld said the city could provide in-kind labor as part of the project to take the overlay off the courts. The cost of the project is at about $130,000.
Board member Sue Pieper said she supported the pickleball idea because it's a very popular sport right now, but she said she's spoken with several people in town and there is still interest in tennis here.
"Tennis is still a sport in the schools and I guess my concern is that Victory is the only place where there is lights," she said.
City Public Works Director Mark Bousselot suggested keeping one tennis court and using the other area of the courts for four pickleball courts. He said the tennis court could be lined for pickleball to give a fifth court.
"In my opinion, and I don't have a vote here, but there's a need to have a tennis court on a public owned piece of property and we shouldn't be totally dependent on the schools," he said.
But Amandus said if the city is going to move forward with the tennis court option, then the organization probably wouldn't raise funds for the project.
"I will say - this committee, if you guys do decide that we need part of that to be tennis courts - I'm not sure where we would want to lay on the fundraising for that. We don't want to raise money for something we don't play," Amandus said.
Pieper said she doesn't feel that two pickleball courts would be enough, but she said having four pickleball courts and then the possibility to use a tennis court as a fifth pickleball court would be a good compromise.
Organization member Bev Brockman, who's husband Greg, measured out the courts, said six courts would fit on the current slab, but the other plans of four and a tennis court won't fit in the space.
Brockman said that if you go around town you don't hardly see anyone playing tennis anymore, unless it's a school.
"If we have 10 in town that people can use the majority of the time, then why spend the money and add another tennis court. You can go there and those schools have agreed to that."
Board member Paul Wilkerson moved to approve the plans for the six pickleball courts and Leyh seconded the motion. After the board approved the motion with Vandegriff and Jacqueline Lumsden voting against the measure, the board also voted to have the city take the overlay off the courts so the organization can have firms look at the work that will be needed on the base.
That motion passed 6-0.
The pickleball group will also be holding an exhibition and clinic on the sport in Riverview Park's west parking lot on Sunday, Oct. 17 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. sponsored by the Fort Madison YMCA.
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