BARRHEAD – In the Town of Barrhead's multi-year capital plan (2022-2025) for 2025, the municipality has tentatively earmarked $350,000 for a new pickleball facility.
That fact did not go unnoticed by the Barrhead Pickleball Club, and Steve Higham and Dennis LeFleur from the organization told town councillors during their Sept. 13 meeting a few of their ideas about where and how to use the money to create a permanent pickleball facility.
This is the third time the club has gone before council to ask for help in establishing a permanent facility, the first being in July 2018 and the other in the spring of 2019. During the later visit, the group estimated that an eight-court, outdoor pickleball facility could be constructed for about $250,000 (not including the cost of the land) based on a facility built recently in Cold Lake.
Pickleball is a racquet sport played by two to four players in singles or doubles that combines aspects of badminton and ping-pong on a shrunk-down version of a tennis court.
It was first introduced to the area in 2013 when Barrhead and Westlock joined forces to host the Alberta 55 Plus Summer Games. After the games, the sport quickly fell out of favour in Barrhead, but in 2016, a small group of diehards reintroduced the sport. Currently, the club has more than 60 members.
"I want to assure council that our club is alive and well," said Higham, admitting the club struggled early on in the pandemic, losing several members. The club is hopeful however it can regain and even grow its membership base despite the group's biggest challenge: finding an adequate playing space.
Currently, the club plays at three locations, none of which are ideal, LeFleur said.
During the seasons which permit outdoor play, the club plays mostly on the Agrena's outdoor ice rink or the outdoor tennis courts, while in the winter, they play at the Barrhead Elementary School gymnasium.
This winter, Higham said, they will not have the same space available as the school has converted part of the gym for volleyball. He also noted that the club also has to compete with other user groups who wish to use the gym.
Coun. Rod Klumph asked if the club has done any fundraising to come up with the money necessary for a permanent facility.
LeFleur said not yet but added the club received two grants totalling about $15,000 from Makadiff Sports (an Alberta-based not-for-profit organization created to encourage the growth and development of amateur sports), which can go towards capital projects.
Mayor Dave McKenzie suggested the club should register as a not-for-profit society so they could access casino money.
"It is a complicated process, but it is something we are willing to look at," Higham said.
Coun. Anthony Oswald asked what the average age of the club's members was.
LeFleur said it was around 62 but added they are hoping to host some youth programs through their affiliation with provincial and national pickleball associations.
Klumph also asked what type of facility the club was hoping to build.
Higham said they presented several plans on facilities built in Whitecourt, Westlock and Cold Lake to parks and recreation director Shallon Touet but are open to several options, depending on the location and funding.
However, Higham and LeFleur said any facility should have a minimum of six to eight courts so the club could host tournaments, which would have economic spinoffs for the municipality.
"But without a commitment, it is hard to make plans," Higham said.
Higham added that while pickleball is a growing sport and the club is working hard to attract members, it is difficult due to the lack of infrastructure.
He also said it is hard because they have to compete with Westlock.
"I have played there," Higham said. "Their fieldhouse (Spirit Centre) and outdoor facilities are great. We have lost so many members to them."
McKenzie said administration would continue to talk to the group about potential options but was confident that something could be arranged.