OKEECHOBEE — The raquetball courts at the county sports park will be scheduled for demolition after all.
At the Oct. 8 meeting, the Okeechobee County Board of Commissioners voted to surplus the racquetball courts and schedule demolition. The structure has a history of attracting unwanted activities and vandalism. At the Oct. 24 meeting, due to requests from citizens who wanted to keep the courts, the county officials reconsidered. They took the structure off the surplus list and looked for ways to repair and secure the racquetball courts. At their Nov. 7 meeting, after reviewing the options, the board voted 3-2 to surplus the courts and schedule demolition, with Commission Chairman Terry Burroughs and Commissioner David Hazellief voting against the motion and Commissioners Kelly Owens, Brad Goodbread and Bryant Culpepper voting in favor.
The commissioners noted that just five or six people currently use the courts to play racquetball. The estimated cost for renovating the courts and adding security doors was more than $50,000.
Just putting in heavy duty doors would cost $16,000, said Parks and Recreation Director Denise Whitehead. To redo the stucco on the whole building would cost $96,000, she said. Patching and repairing just the damaged areas would cost about $16,000.
They considered taking out a wall to create three wall courts, said Capital Projects Director Donnie Oden, but that would require costly improvements to keep the building structurally safe.
“I can’t see trying to fix up what has been an ongoing problem when the space could be better used,” said Commissioner Owens.
Commissioner Culpepper said vast majority of people in the county would rather spend the money on a splash pad than on fixing up the racquetball courts.
Just baseline cost to fix up two courts is $52,000, noted Chairman Burroughs. “Spending $52,000 for five or six people doesn’t work for me,” he said.
“We have responsibility to make that place safe,” he continued.
“Light up that place like it is daytime at night,” he suggested. “Light it up so people can use it in the evening.”
“Let’s build something that is going to an effective addition for a lot of people … racquetball, wallyball, pickleball, all of those things are coming in,” he said.
Commissioner Culpepper suggested using solar panels to charge batteries for LED lights.
“When the lights come on, the roaches scatter,” he said.
“Racquetball courts and splash pad are not mutually exclusive,” said Commissioner Goodbread. “We can have both.”
Ms. Whitehead said nationwide interest in the sport of racquetball is declining. She said in 1987, there were 10 million people in the U.S. who played racquetball. In 2017, that number had declined to 3 million.
Commissioner Burroughs noted that many people stopped playing racquetball due to the high number of injuries.
“I know the reason I don’t play racquetball anymore is that I am getting too old to keep up with it,” said Commissioner Owens. She said pickleball is a slower game.
Ms. Whitehead agreed pickleball is a growing sport for all ages.
Ms. Whitehead said the open spaces, picnic spaces, benches and pavilions get far more use and are far more crowded than the racquetball courts. “If all I did was clear that area out and put in picnic tables, it would get more use,” she said.
“My personal preference would be to put a multiuse court there,” Ms. Whitehead continued. “Right now I have to kick soccer players off the tennis courts to keep them from tearing up the fences. If they had a place to play court soccer, it would be in constant use.”
The community is asking for additional walking trails and they have been asking for a splash pad, she said. It would make a lot of sense to put a splash pad where the racquetball courts are because of the proximity to the pool, she added.