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Decision on pickleball courts in limbo, but 'there's no business case' for dome, says McCann

'Getting anywhere between 12 and 16 pickleball courts in one area, so it’s tournament-ready, then we can put Barrie, Ontario on the map,' says Ward 10 councillor
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Pickleball player. Tony Saxon/Village Media

Will the city make a major investment in new pickleball facilities?

Barrie councillors are scheduled to serve up a decision of sorts on March 21.

On Monday night, council instructed staff to investigate and report back on the ability to develop eight, 12 or 14 new pickleball courts in Painswick Park at the general committee meeting on that date.

This was after referring back to staff a motion for a new $1.3-million pickleball facility with 14 professional standard courts at the Barrie Community Sports Complex, located just north of the city in Midhurst at the former tree nursery.

Coun. Mike McCann says the new courts should be located in Barrie because people are driving outside the city, to Orillia and Newmarket, to play pickleball because this city doesn’t have enough courts.

“I think getting anywhere between 12 and 16 pickleball courts in one area, so it’s tournament-ready, then we can put Barrie, Ontario on the map in pickleball and we’ve got all the right players in place to make that happen,” he told BarrieToday on Tuesday.

Painswick Park already has four pickleball courts and is located at the corner of Big Bay Point Road and Ashford Drive in the city's south end.

McCann also said he believes the new courts will cost less than $1.3 million.

“I think they (city staff) are going to find some efficiencies and they’re going to look at some of the tennis courts they’ve done and they’re going to be able to have a more lean, more efficient way of building the pickleball courts,” he said.

Council also approved a motion Monday night that an outdoor racquet sports strategy, providing direction on outdoor pickleball and tennis recreation facilities across the city, be included in the 2023 capital budget for council’s consideration.

“While there is an interest in a formal, large facility for pickleball… being able to do this will help provide direction both to council and to staff’s workload about what we are planning for this type of recreation facility court system,” said Coun. Ann-Marie Kungl.

Michelle Banfield, the city’s director of development services, said the strategy is required.

“We don’t have a strategy for outdoor racquet sports and so that’s why we would need to do one,” she said.

McCann said he doesn’t expect the March 21 report to include information on a dome.

“The motion didn’t ask for a dome,” he said. “Once I saw the costs for a dome, I absolutely rejected it. There’s no business case.”

The Feb. 28 staff report on 14 new pickleball courts at the Barrie Community Sports Complex has a capital cost of $1.294 million. With a dome, this capital cost increases to $3.965 million  adding in the dome structure, interior lighting, mechanical equipment, a concrete foundation for the grade beam, the dome ancillary structure and site work.

The case for a dome has been made by John Wellar, owner of Barrie North Winter Tennis, who says it makes little sense to spend money on new pickleball courts that can only be used four months a year.

Founded in 2003, Barrie North Winter Tennis has a partnership arrangement with Springwater Township for its outdoor tennis courts in Midhurst, covering them with a dome from October to April’s end. Wellar says a dome also helps protect courts from winter weather, which can cause them to crack and heave.

At this point the funding source for new pickleball courts is the city’s reinvestment reserve, which stands at $3.3 million  less the $650,000 already targetted for pickleball courts. This reserve is funded from the Alectra dividends that come through Barrie Hydro Holdings.

McCann said he expects a majority of councillors will support new pickleball courts in Barrie.

“I absolutely believe it will get approved,” he said. “I don’t believe it will pass unanimously.”

The city offers drop-in pickleball sessions at various community centres throughout Barrie. There are dedicated courts at Red Path and Painswick parks, share-used courts at Greenfield, Sandringham and Strabane parks. In all, the city has 11 existing pickleball courts in its parks, with six dedicated pickleball courts, and five shared-use courts.

The city plans to construct an additional four dedicated pickleball courts at Eastview Community Park to have a total of 15 courts in 2022.

Pickleball combines elements of tennis, badminton and table tennis/ping pong. It’s played with a paddle and a wiffleball, a perforated plastic ball, on a badminton-sized court with a slightly modified tennis net. Pickleball can be played as doubles or singles and by all age and skill levels for both recreation and as a social activity.

Barrie Pickleball Club has said it has approximately 450 members in and around the city.