By Pam Wright
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The municipality will soon have 10 new pickleball courts located in five different communities.
That was the decision reached by Chatham-Kent council recently, following a lengthy back-and-forth discussion about the benefits of placing the new courts together in a hub, rather than placing them in separate locations.
A number of Chatham councillors were vocal in their support of creating a hub rather than building two courts each in Blenheim, Chatham, Dresden, Tilbury and Wallaceburg.
Karen Kirkwood-Whyte said she had received input from a number of pickleball enthusiasts, including members of the Chatham-Kent Pickleball Club, adding she’s in support of the hub concept, but it doesn’t mean it has to be located in Chatham.
Bondy, who plays tennis in Chatham daily, said building two courts in one location is a “waste of money.
“Two just doesn’t do it,” Bondy noted. “The right way to go is to put the courts together.”
But other councillors said smaller communities deserve a chance at having a place to play pickleball.
South Kent Coun. Trevor Thompson said the two new courts are something Blenheim “desperately needs,” adding, “We need to make sure all of our smaller communities are covered.”
However, a hub may still be in the cards, as a friendly amendment from Mayor Darrin Canniff was approved.
Administration is now tasked with exploring the cost and location of four additional new courts. Courts, when built in pairs, carry an estimated price tag of between $100,000 to $125,000 for the two.
But that decision will fall to the new council as the money would need to be allocated in the 2023 budget.
A deputation from the Chatham-Kent Pickleball Club president Jay Salisbury was read at the meeting. The deputation urged the municipality to keep the courts together, as pickleball enthusiasts prefer congregating in one area to play.
In a post-meeting interview, Salisbury said he’s pleased the municipality plans to investigate the possibility of creating a pickleball hub.
“We will be happy if a hub is created as we feel a hub is important to help grow the sport,” Salisbury explained, adding pickleball is “growing immensely.”
People of all ages enjoy it, he added, noting the club would like to be able to hold tournaments, give lessons, host children’s programs and leagues and have space so families can play together.
Currently pickleball club members play on six courts at the Doug Allin Tennis Courts at John McGregor Secondary School for two hours a day, six days a week.
Chatham-Kent’s 10 new courts are being built with the help of an Ontario Building Grant, which specifies the money must be spent on new builds and cannot be used to revamp existing facilities.
Total cost of the 10-court project is $554,000 with $419,000 being covered by the grant. The one-time cost to the municipality is $125,000 to come out of reserves.
A $10,000 provincial grant will also cover the cost of signage.
In the original proposal earlier this spring, administration had recommended the courts be located at Ellis Park in Chatham.
However, people in the neighbourhood opposed it and the idea was dropped.