Plans for more pickleball courts put on hold

The expansion of pickleball courts in Chatham-Kent has been put on hold.

A report during the latest council meeting showed administration doesn’t anticipate an opportunity to construct new pickleball courts through the 2023 capital budget process due to the many existing infrastructure priorities.

“Due to council’s existing infrastructure priorities, administration does not anticipate an opportunity to construct new pickleball courts through the 2023 capital budget process,” reads the report that went before council.

However, the Manager of Parks and Recreation, Ian Clark, said he continues working with the Chatham-Kent Pickleball Club on a multi-court hub in Chatham and trying to find ways to move forward on other developments.

In the Spring of 2022, administration gathered information from the community via a survey for pickleball court locations. A total of 678 responses were received. Administration determined there was a demand for pickleball courts in locations across Chatham-Kent.

As a result, on April 25, 2022, council directed administration to examine and seek feedback through public consultation and return with recommendations and funding options to get pickleball courts into more rural communities.

On July 11, 2022, the construction of two pickleball courts each in the communities of Blenheim, Chatham, Dresden, Tilbury, and Wallaceburg was approved with funding from the Ontario Trillium Foundation’s Community Building Grant.

However, on November 21, 2022, the council removed the two Chatham courts from the awarded tender. The Chatham-Kent Pickleball Club was authorized to fundraise for a pickleball hub with a location in Chatham to be finalized.

Since the proposed asset would not have been identified as a capital priority by council, the group would be recommended to fundraise 100 percent of capital costs.

According to the report authorized by Clark, a standard two-court pickleball development with fencing and walkways costs approximately $140,000 plus HST.

“Should council identify the proposed asset as a municipal priority, they may choose to use municipal funds to support the Community Group’s fundraising plan. Such funding sources may include the Community Benefit Contribution reserve or through the Ward Funding Program,” wrote Clark.

Trying to find a solution for the growing number of pickleball players, several municipalities have painted pickleball court lines on existing outdoor courts primarily used for tennis and basketball.

As it stands, there are 25 municipal tennis courts and ten outdoor basketball courts in wards across Chatham-Kent. While not all locations would be suitable for pickleball due to size, usage, existing partnerships, or other concerns, each asset is identified for lifecycle replacement administration will initiate a business case to determine its suitability for pickleball and make recommendations as appropriate.

“Administration regularly reviews grant opportunities to fund projects identified by council through master plans, lifecycle and capital budgets, or other specific motions. Should further grants be received to support Council direction to expand pickleball courts in the Municipality, a similar process recently followed for the OTF grant will be implemented by administration,” said Clark.

A specific location will be recommended to council according to the results of the business case evaluation. This evaluation will include Pickleball Court Expansion Strategy public engagement as well as a review of municipal priorities and master plans for service level gaps in locations that can be addressed by the new asset.

“Business case evaluations will be initiated according to three more likely scenarios: a local group approaches the Municipality regarding a partnership to construct a new court; a municipal tennis or basketball court is identified for lifecycle replacement, and there is an opportunity to include pickleball court lines in the project; and a grant is received for new pickleball court construction from a third party,” said Clark.

Bird Bouchard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Ridgetown Independent News