Pickleball Expanded At The Harwich Cultural Center Gym 

By: William F. Galvin

Topics: Recreation

Pickleball is getting a lot of play at the cultural center gymnasium and will get even more with the addition of two more mornings a week. WILLIAM F. GALVIN PHOTO

HARWICH – Selectmen have approved the expanded use of the cultural center gymnasium for pickleball this winter, but the board also wants a cost analysis for the uses in the building completed by March 1.

Recreation Director Eric Beebe was before the board a couple of weeks ago seeking to expand the pickleball program from three to five days a week. The program was being run on Mondays, Wednesdays and Friday from 8 a.m. to noon. Beebe wanted to add Tuesday and Thursdays during the same time slot.

Residents were paying a $35 fee and non-residents $50 for the winter program. Beebe said $10 from each registrant went to the cultural center, and the remainder went to the recreation revolving fund to cover the department’s costs.

Some members of the board of selectmen expressed concerns that the cost of operating the gym was more than the revenues generated by the pickleball program. Selectmen Chairman Michael MacAskill has said the funds provided to the cultural center don’t “pay the cost of turning on the lights.” Selectman Donald Howell said the town needs to develop a business plan for operation of the cultural center.

Selectmen on Jan. 4 deliberated on the new fee proposal shaped by Beebe for the winter program. It included the request for the five-day a week program with a resident fee of $45 fee and a non-resident fee of $60. The cultural center would get $20 from each registrant.

MacAskill expressed dismay that the board received nothing showing what the cost of the programs are to the town. 

“We are underwater before we look at other things like how much it costs to replace the floor and how much it costs to run the lights,” Howell said. “I’m not prepared to accept a schedule that is the minimum when I’m not sure it is the minimum.”

“I do not believe myself that costs are being covered,” MacAskill added.

“We keep pushing this down the road, setting fees with no input for what the costs are,” Selectman Larry Ballantine said. “We’ve been asked to do that in the past. At some point we have to draw the line and say OK, what are the operation costs, maintenance costs, and long term capital cost. Going blind, and not knowing those expenses, is a disservice. We’re leaving a lot on the table right now in the cultural center. There are things we can do to make it a more productive asset to the town. But we need more information.”

Selectman Mary Anderson pointed out the lights in the gym have been converted to LED, which are less expensive. She also said the gym sits empty in the morning on Tuesdays and Thursdays. She supported letting the pickleball players use the gym as it will generate a little more revenue for the town.

Selectman Julie Kavanagh agreed a cost analysis needs to be done. She said the town will be hiring a new cultural center coordinator who will assist with future planning for the facility.

In the meantime, Kavanagh said, the gym is an empty space and people have requested to use it, and that will allow a little money to come in. 

“I don’t want to punish the pickleballers because we haven’t done our work yet,” MacAskill said. “Leaving it empty two days a week really gives us nothing.”  

The board approved Beebe's plan 4-1. Howell dissented.

The board also agreed to instruct the town administrator to conduct a cost analysis on the use of the cultural center to be presented to selectmen by March 1.