The Litchfield Park Recreation and Public Grounds Commission voted unanimously to table a request to build a basketball court at Scout Park until the COVID-19 pandemic is under control.
Commissioners met Thursday, July 9 via Zoom to consider the request submitted by Jack Donahue. The 5.6-acre park on the corner of Fairway Drive and La Loma Avenue features a large, soccer-sized open grassy space, four covered picnic tables under a shade structure, two playground structures, benches and a baseball/softball backstop.
Assistant City Manager Matthew Williams, who also serves as the city’s community and recreation services director, told commissioners the earliest the request could be added to the city’s Capital Improvement list would be June 2021, and there is no guarantee when it would be built if approved by the City Council.
“This project is very dependent on the City Center project because the City Center project approaches Scout Park,” Mr. Williams said. “With COVID-19, the economy is down, the market’s down. The City Center project has been stalled because of that issue.”
City Center is a multimillion project designed to create a focal point on 30 acres in downtown Litchfield Park. When built, it will feature a mix of offices, restaurants and high-end retail stores surrounding a greenspace where residents can gather, and the city can host events and festivals. Officials had planned to begin implementing the project this spring after decades of planning.
“As you know, we put 2 acres out for bid in March, and we got no bids because nobody’s bidding right now,” Mr. William said. Again, we’ve halted all CIP plans because of COVID-19 ... the City Council is being very conservative with money right now because we just don’t know what’s going to happen, unfortunately.”
Mr. Williams also noted that there has been conversation about moving the historic Scout Lodge, donated to Troop 90 in 1954 by Paul W. Litchfield, to the park from its current location at 299 W. Fairway Drive.
In addition, several families living near the park submitted letters opposing installing a basketball court at the park, citing lack of maintenance and supervision that led to excess noise, litter and graffiti before the facility was taken over by the city, he said.
Commissioner JoAnn Dunn said she believes the park isn’t the right place for a basketball court, but Commissioners Andrea Phillips and Susan Fix said they didn’t want to rule it out as a potential site.
Commissioner David Schwake said before he would support a basketball court at the park, he would want to know how the city will reassure neighbors they wouldn’t be impacted as they were in the past.
Commissioner Adam Schwartz asked if leaving the basketball courts at the Litchfield Park Recreation Center, 100 N. Old Litchfield Road, unlocked during daytime hours would be a a solution.
“We get a basketball court that’s not adjacent to any homeowners,” he said. “It’s supervised ... I can see the concerns that our citizenry brought up about it becoming a loud place, a place with a lot of litter, a place with grafitti. We have somebody within five feet of there, we have trash can receptacles. Why not just leave that gate unlocked?”
Mr. Williams said the city rents those courts out, so they can’t be left open for public play, and “even if they were unlocked, our basketball courts are closed right now to COVID. Our tennis courts are open because with tennis you’re six feet apart. However, basketball is very much a contact sport and because of that our basketball courts have been closed for months now.”
Mr. Schwartz suggested that once the courts reopen, the city may want to consider making them available for public play when they aren’t rented out.
The commission meets at 7 p.m. the second Thursday of each month. Because of uncertainty about the COVID-19 pandemic, it was unclear when the basketball court request will be revisited.