Dennis Hilgendorf sends the ball across the court. Hilgendorf was among a small group of people who practiced their pickleball skills in the court near Kaiser Park on Sept. 27. The group was enjoying a break in the rain that had kept some of the other regular participants from attending.

McGaw Park will be the site of eight new pickleball courts.

The City of Fitchburg Common Council unanimously approved a bid to build just the pickleball courts at McGaw Park near the Fahey Fields development, while opting to not to approve an alternative bid which included constructing a parking lot and paths adjacent to the courts, at its Tuesday, March 9, meeting.

Before approving the bid, alders expressed concerns at both the council meeting, and finance committee meeting preceding it, that resources were going to McGaw Park, which already has tennis courts and baseball fields, while they felt like other projects in other parts of the city were dismissed as “pet projects” by fellow alders and the community.

The construction bid was awarded to Badgerland Excavation Corporation for $298,000. The construction of the parking lot and paths around it, which the council did not approve, would have added $329,224 to the overall project cost.

The pickleball court project will be funded by parkland dedication fees – which are paid by developers who do not build parks as a part of their development, not paid by taxpayers – city finance director Misty Dodge told alders during the finance committee meeting.

“They’re going to draw people from across the city,” she said. “So the fees that those subdivisions paid can be used for that project because it will benefit that development.”

The city receives $65,000 for every acre of land that a development is deficient in parkland from developers, city parks director Scott Endl explained. Fahey Fields’ developer paid approximately $623,000 in parkland dedication fees, Endl estimated, and another $265,000 in park improvement fees.

Ald. Gabriella Gerhardt (Dist. 2) said in the finance committee meeting there’s a limited amount of parkland dedication fees and improvement fees available at the city’s disposal. As such, she was concerned that additional funds that had not come from the Fahey Fields developer that could be used elsewhere in the city, were given to an area that already has amenities.

“In terms of priorities, I think providing park space to part of the community that has very little park space is more important to me than adding an additional amenity in the near term to this park that has a lot of amenities,” she said.

In particular, Gerhardt and other alders were worried that spending additional parkland funds in McGaw Park for the pickleball courts meant there would be less money for The Hub project on Traceway Drive, which is currently in the design phase. Those concerns were echoed by alders in the following Common Council meeting, specifically District 1 alders, whose plans for a teen center in the Jamestown neighborhood had come under scrutiny as something the city couldn’t afford.

Dodge and Endl reassured alders at the finance meeting there would be enough in parkland dedication fees to still contribute to The Hub, specifically from the Bowman Dairy apartment complex on Fish Hatchery Road, which will eventually pay in $680,000 in fees.

Phase 1 of The Hub is expected to cost $2.6 million, but Endl said all of the funding doesn’t need to come from parkland dedication fees or the city’s operating budget.

“There’s a lot of different funding and grant opportunities for Phase 1 of The Hub, which certainly we’re going to apply for and hopefully be successful with,” he said.

During both the Council meeting and the Finance Committee meeting earlier in the day, Ald. Julia Arata-Fratta (D-2) also expressed concerns about the lack of lighting near the pickleball courts, and wondered whether the cost of the extra parking lots could instead be used to install lighting.

“Because we are in Wisconsin, and in the fall, 4 p.m., 4:30 p.m., 5 p.m., it gets dark … why didn’t we decide to add the lights?” she asked during the Finance Committee meeting.

Endl responded that just because the project didn’t currently have lights to go along with the eight pickleball courts, it didn’t mean they couldn’t add those at a later time.

“When we promoted the project to the neighbors, it was a case that we didn’t include the court lighting because we felt it might be intrusive,” he said. “We’re providing the base facility, if you would … that could be something that the pickleball community could be involved in, and adding and providing some donations.”

Endl added that the parking lot south of the courts would also serve the athletic fields that are planned in the city’s Capital Improvement Plan for a future year.

Email reporter Kimberly Wethal at kimberly.wethal@wcinet.com and follow her on Twitter @kimberly_wethal.​

News Editor

Kimberly Wethal joined Unified Newspaper Group in 2018, where she serves as the news editor for four publications and primarily covers the Verona Area School District and the City of Fitchburg. She previously was an intern with UNG starting in 2013.