Members of the Niagara-on-the-Lake Pickleball are making the most of the courts that are available to them, and are appreciative of town staff doing their best to make up for the closure of the outdoor courts.
But they are still hoping for more court time and wondering if there are any options.
Tracy Booth, the new Niagara-on-the-Lake club president, attended her first meeting with town staff Monday, to introduce herself as the current contact, meet staff, learn about the process the town is following, and discuss the efforts to find the club more space as the courts remain closed.
Her meeting was an opportunity to talk about a report that was discussed by councillors Monday evening, although there were no recommendations or decisions made.
Booth says she has heard no news on a decision about whether the town will appeal the probationary period that has closed the outdoor courts for two years, imposed along with a $1,000 fine for the town and the club, after they were both charged with breaking the town’s noise bylaw by a resident who lives nearby.
Town councillors recently asked staff for a report on alternative locations for the club to play, and whether the outdoor courts would be suitable for any other sport.
“The decision was made not to open the outdoor courts until a complaint and litigation surrounding the town’s noise bylaw was resolved,” the report says.
John Hindle, past president of the club, continues to be involved, particularly over legal issues as the club transitions to a new board, which he describes as “fully functioning, with great people.”
The club, Hindle told The Local, will not appeal the decision on its own, and is waiting to hear what the town will do — the club can’t afford to, “but if the town appeals, we have nothing to lose.”
He calls the two-year probation “cruel and unusual punishment,” but adds, “the club has moved on. We don’t like it, but we are being positive and asking the town to discuss our plan for next June, when the probationary period is over. The question that needs to be answered is what’s next. Will we be playing outside or do we plan to play indoors?”
Hindle says the board and members have been “flabbergasted and overwhelmed by the support of the community. They support our values,” he says, “not to be a cost to the community but a contributor.”
The staff report looked at three options to replace the Centennial Arena courts after Aug. 22, when arena staff begin to transition to ice-making for skating.
The town has spent about $8,750 on modifying the arena floor, to be used for pickleball by club members and the public, at no cost.
Hindle says members have been playing in the arena, and although the floor is hard and the arena stifling hot, they appreciate the town making it available.
He is also delighted to see the number of young people playing, he adds.
Town staff considered the former Virgil school gym, the former high school gym which is now part of the Vineridge Academy, and the Croation Hall on Line 3, as possible alternatives.
They also looked at increasing the availability in the community centre, with the possibility of some use on weekends, but as Hindle says, the community centre was not intended just for pickleball — there are other groups who also use it.
The staff report says the pickleball club rented space in the former Virgil Public School in 2021, and could do so again. The owner “is more than happy to work with the PBC and the town,” the report says, with scheduling to be worked out with the town and the club. The cost would be the responsibility of the club, at $100 per hour, minimum two hours, which would be significant if trying to replace the 12 hours a day, seven days a week the arena courts have been open.
Vineridge Academy has a large gym, but it is available to the club for rental.
The Croatian Hall is available to rent, the report says, but doesn’t have adequate space to play pickleball, town staff determined.
Staff also looked at alternative uses for the outdoor pickleball courts that wouldn’t damage the acrylic surface, that would present revenue opportunities, costs for modifications for each activity, and any potential concerns.
A long list of possibilities they looked at included ball hockey, lacrosse, basketball, volleyball, street soccer, a fitness space for activities such as yoga, corn hole, and spec tennis (a new paddle sport played on a pickleball court, with different rules than pickleball).
Several of the sports, the report says, have the potential to damage the surface of the court, some have a cost attached for modification, all could bring in revenue if the space is provided for a rental fee, and some could generate as much noise or more than pickleball.
When the report was discussed Monday night, Lord Mayor Betty Disero, who had asked for the investigation into alternative locations for the club to play and other activities to take place on the now locked-up courts, questioned next steps. The report, she said, “doesn’t conclude where we would go with pickleball and doesn’t conclude what we would do with the courts that aren’t being used.”
“In terms of actions,” she said, “we’re no further ahead than we were a month or three weeks ago. How do we get to conclusions about what to do with the courts and what we can do for more courts?”
CAO Marnie Cluckie said staff would have to do more studies, including costs, and also the due diligence necessary to ensure whatever occurred on the courts wouldn’t be breaking the noise bylaw that was in place when the town and pickleball club were originally charged.
Acting operations director Kevin Turcotte warned that if the court is unlocked and used for other activities, the town would also have to be certain nobody used it for pickleball.
While Disero agreed due diligence is necessary, “this is a longer process than I’d like.”