Pickleball can be an exhilarating game, but it can also be loud.
The city hasn’t overlooked that detail in recent discussions about where to build dedicated pickleball courts. Sound mitigation was a major focus at a meeting Tuesday with Durango City Council and Parks and Recreation.
Pickleball thwaps register around 70 decibels 100 feet away and 58 decibels at a range of 400 feet, according to research by Lee Petty with DHM Design, the contractor hired by the city to design the pickleball court complex at Schneider Park. Pickleball noises aren’t consistent but can be grating, resembling the sound of two pieces of wood being smacked together at irregular intervals.
Petty said his research revealed that sound mitigation is probably needed for any residential areas within that 400-foot range, which means that sound-mitigation walls – 8-inch thick plastic nontransparent barriers – would possibly be needed to protect occupants of the River Roost Apartments and the Hilltop House (less likely) near Greenmount Cemetery from game noise at Schneider Park.
The sound walls would cost the parks department about $35,000, so the current plan is to build the pickleball courts and then determine if sound mitigation is necessary, said Ture Nycum, director of parks and recreation.
He said he sourced his decibel information from acousticalnoise.com, which is operated by a professional sound engineer. Other factors that a sound design engineer might consider are ambient noise, such as white water rushing down the Animas River adjacent to Schneider Park, or the sputtering engines and spinning wheels of traffic on Roosa Avenue or Camino del Rio right across the river.
Nycum said Petty found a sound engineer who could provide consultation to the parks department about the Schneider Park site for around $12,500. If the city so wished, it could pursue a “full-fledged” sound study for a higher price.
Petty said he scrolled through city code to get a feel for the sort of decibel levels permitted in town. If decibel levels in a residential neighborhood reach 55 decibels or higher for 90% of the time – as might happen with an air conditioner or another appliance – the noise must be mitigated. Motorcycles are prohibited by city code from exceeding 88 decibels.
Mayor Barbara Noseworthy said she lives downtown near music and bars, and noise levels above 70 decibels cause her trouble sleeping.
“Every time you go up 10 (decibels) it’s almost as if it has a multiplying effect as to how it sounds (or is) perceived,” she said.
Petty said the River Roost Apartments are the primary concern regarding pickleball noise levels because a corner of the apartments falls within the 400-foot noise radius.
Nycum said pickleball court designs are about 30% complete. The project has a budget of $800,000, which is included in a Capital Improvements Plan budget for 2023. The parks department remains cognizant of its budget and is trying to stay under it.
The parks department is considering one restroom standard to be applied across various city parks. Once that is finalized, Nycum might return to City Council to discuss expediting the Schneider Park project because its restrooms are overdue for renovations.
He said Parks and Recreation has roughly a $750,000 cushion in its 2023 Capital Improvement Projects plan and initially budgeted $550,000 for 2027 to address the Schneider Park restrooms.
The city is also considering a more linear stormwater quality system for drainage and wants to make them aesthetically pleasing.
“We want something that’s a gentle swell that isn’t noticeable,” Petty said.
City staff members noted that one red oak tree and four smaller trees may have to be removed to build the pickleball courts – but spading or transplanting the trees to another area is possible.
Nycum said the original timeline for completion of the pickleball courts was July 2023, but that might be premature because finding a contractor could prove difficult.
Councilor Melissa Youssef said members of the pickleball community are “very excited” to ride their bikes on the Animas River Trail to Schneider Park, play some games and then ride downtown to carry on with their days.
Noseworthy said her biggest concern is that pickleball noise might disrupt people who use the park for other purposes such as reading and writing.
Youssef said some people who use the Animas River Trail feel less safe the further south they travel along it, including in the area of Schneider Park. Developing the park might put some people’s nerves at ease.