Basketball courts

‘Save our courts’ Guilford parents and children protest the relocation of basketball courts from the public safety complex

GUILFORD — “Save Our Courts” was the message from parents and young people at a rally when about 100 turned out on a cold March 3 evening to the basketball courts of the Public Safety Complex to protest against the city’s decision to move popular hoops.

The city intends to move the courts from their location on Route 77 near downtown, to make way for a four-bay storage unit. There are plans to move the 22-year-old court to the Bittner Park Recreation Center, about 2.7 miles north of the current location.

As the youngsters shot hoops, sat on nearby benches and socialized, parents gathered to talk about the benefits of keeping the grounds fenced in at this particular location.

“I like that it’s close to town, the kids can walk to and from the green, to and from town, to and from Adams (Middle School) and it’s in a safe place,” said Scott Guile who has three sons, Brandon, 11, Teagan, 15 and Jake, 16, sits on the board of the Guilford Basketball League and coaches basketball.

First coach Matt Hoey addressed the issue of convenience for residents living downtown.

“It’s very convenient for part of the community, but Bittner happens to be the geographic epicenter of the city,” he said. “Yes, it would be a shame for the children not to be able to cycle or walk up there, who live in the area. This factor would disappear for a certain part of the population.

As for Bittner’s location, “I think it has the opportunity, being the epicenter, to make it more accessible to more people,” he added.

Eighth grader Michael Lawton started a petition on and within a week garnered nearly 1,400 signatures to “stop the Guilford city government from getting rid of the basketball courts.”

The 13-year-old plays basketball on the courts every weekend, all year round.

“My friends and I, and a lot of people I don’t know from Guilford, go there often to play basketball,” Lawton said. “It’s the safest court and it’s really the only good court in Guilford and it has lights and at night it’s safe to play and shoot.”

“I just couldn’t see the point in putting storage units in such a prime location for the kids to get out and be active,” the middle schooler added.

Police Chief Warren “Butch” Hyatt said his department was relying on a project initiated by firefighters. He said building the storage units requires a lot of research and planning.

“Engineers looked at a number of different places on this property to do this and this was the only viable one, due to elevation and soil type and things like that,” he said. .

Hyatt added that one of its concerns with the Public Safety Complex basketball courts is that it is a high-traffic area with official cars and trucks requiring quick and easy access.

“You have children coming in and out of this area right on the path where fire and police vehicles come in and out,” he said.

“It creates a situation where it’s dangerous because they don’t think and look at a fire engine or a police car coming out of there towards an emergency and it’s a public safety installation” , did he declare.

Responding to public concern, Hoey noted that he was a “big fan of youth basketball in town.”

“I coached for over 10 years in the youth program and officiated recreational youth games for longer than I can remember at this point,” he said. “I understand the challenge this represents.”

Still, Hoey added, the storage facility is a much-needed improvement for fire and police departments.

“There continues to be a need for storage of the vehicles and equipment they use in day-to-day operations, some of which are spread across the city,” he said.

“Having them on site reduces response times in some cases,” he added. “We have expensive equipment and we also have equipment that is outside, exposed to the elements. This is an attempt to protect and preserve this equipment.

The plan, Hoey said, is to have the basketball courts built in Bittner before the current courts are dismantled.

“The goal was to get the new pitch built, which would basically give us two pitches up there, with lighting, when we needed to remove the pitches to accommodate the additional storage facility,” he said. .

Rick Maynard, director of parks and recreation, said the additional basketball court at Bittner will improve the already busy recreation facility.

“It could be very advantageous if we could put the courts up there, put lights there,” he said. “It would also light up the pickleball courts which are new there and we have 200 people playing pickleball and they would love it.”

He added that the number of people using the area could be beneficial in terms of safety.

“As young people, or anyone, are playing basketball, there will be people playing pickleball,” he said.

“I think in a sense there will be a lot more community oversight than there is right now, where it is right now,” he added.

The plan is to keep the lights on at Bittner until about 10 p.m.

Maynard admits he had initial reservations about dismantling the courts.

“I wasn’t happy,” he said. “I pushed a few of them away.”

Still, he said, he now agrees with the recommendation.

“At the time it was a good place, but as the needs have changed and we have to consider changing with those needs, it just makes sense to be in a park,” he said .

Kim Vigliotti, a mother of three boys, said she always felt comfortable when her sons were in the current courts.

“It’s in a safe, well-lit, central location,” she said of the location, which is on the south side of the Public Safety Complex.

“In our town of Guilford, we don’t have a lot of places where kids can just hang out and parents can feel like they’re in a safe place,” she said.

“It’s visible, it’s well lit and it’s right in front of the police and fire department,” she added. “You feel comfortable that they’re not getting in trouble.”

Although those plans have been discussed in at least six Board of Selectman meetings since Dec. 21, 2020, Hoey admits the city could do better to communicate issues affecting residents.

“I think we can always communicate better with the community, in relation to the impacts of the decisions we make and we sometimes lose sight of the fact that because we deal with it, in a consistent way and we are talking about it in the forums public that other people are going to be aware of,” he said.

Hoey stressed that he listens to the concerns of townspeople.

“Because this has raised concerns,” he said, “I have committed to going back to the architects we used for the preliminary and conceptual layout of these facilities to see if there is an alternative on this property, as opposed to replacing the courts, themselves.

There are also lighted courts at Jacobs Beach and Adams Middle School for the community to use.

But Maynard doesn’t see the Jacobs Beach court expansion as a viable option.

“Jacobs, especially with the wading pool, it’s not just a beach anymore,” Maynard said. “There is a small basketball court, a picnic area, a wading pool to come and a boat rack – all of those things.” Unlike Bitner Park, which has sports fields, hiking trails, a skate park, disc golf, pickleball courts, he said.

“And now hopefully beautiful basketball courts. Lighted basketball courts,” Maynard said.

Hoey and Maynard also talked about sprucing up the lighted Adams basketball court — repainting the asphalt and lines, and updating the lighting, which sits just south of the Public Safety Complex hoops.

Hoey said he “would be happy to entertain by using city funds, not school board funds, to improve the land and/or, if possible, the addition of additional land at Adams.”

Sarah Page Kyrcz can be reached at [email protected]