Council to consider changing multi-use sports box to pickle ball courts

By on June 15, 2017
The sports box at Central Park will remain a multi-use facility. (Herald file photo).

Merritt city council is considering making the multi-use lacrosse box in Central Park the exclusive home for pickle ball.

Council will hear from staff at a special council meeting next Tuesday at 7 p.m., and determine whether or not to give the million dollar facility to the Merritt Pickle Ball Club for their exclusive use.

Approving the club’s request would call for a $90,000 retrofit of the facility to convert it to pickle ball courts. The club is seeking a federal grant of $25,000 to put towards the renovation.

The retrofit would involve making changes that would turn the sports box from a multi-use facility to a single-use one that can’t be utilized for other sports.

Currently, the facility can be used for sports such as ball hockey, basketball and lacrosse.

At a city council meeting back on May 9, club president Brian Dafoe requested council make the facility the group’s permanent home. He was in attendance again at Tuesday’s meeting (June 13), as council was considering writing a letter of support for the group’s grant application.

The deadline for the grant is next Friday, and the club needs to know if council will approve their request to make the sports box their permanent home before they move ahead with their application, or obtain any other funding and contractor bids, Dafoe told council.

“I think that we need to do something with that lacrosse box,” said Merritt Mayor Neil Menard, adding that it is well used by the Merritt Pickle Ball Club, and that he only sees people playing other sports there on occasion.

“I think this is the right thing for us to do,” Menard said of the Pickle Ball Club’s request to take over the facility. “The [Nicola Valley Minor Lacrosse Association] — who was the mover and shaker in order to push us to build the lacrosse box in the first place — [doesn’t] use it.” 

Pickle ball players have used the facility for the past year, since being granted permission from council to have court lines painted on the surface. Council also granted the group of 50 senior players the rights to the court several mornings per week, and authorized the purchase of four additional nets.

On Tuesday, council considered amending the motion on the letter of support to include its approval of the Pickle Ball Club taking over the sports box, but ultimately decided to get staff’s input first.

“I’m little reluctant to do [this] without any input from staff,” said Coun. Linda Brown, who also said she felt giving the sports box to the club was a good idea.

Coun. Diana Norgaard said she was also in need of getting staff input first as well.

Coun. Kurt Christopherson said he was in support of having the additional meeting, but was prepared to make the decision to give the pickle ball group the sports box that night rather than waste more time.

He said the facility is used very little and claimed the public hasn’t embraced it.

“I’m not prepared, as a councillor, to throw any more money at that facility when we have an organization that’s willing to put in the time and money,” said Christopherson.

Coun. Ginny Prowal said she didn’t have a problem with making the sports box the club’s exclusive home if they’d be willing to share it with other sports.

However, the proposed renovations would make the facility unusable for other sports. The changes proposed by the club include placing a rubberized membrane over the concrete and sealing the boards, Dafoe told council.

“It would be exclusively for the pickle ball [club] no different than the tennis club,” Dafoe told the Herald, adding that pickle ball is a fast-growing sport amongst seniors.

Dafoe said making these changes would address existing issues with the facility pertaining to drainage, warping boards and cracks in the concrete.

“This is an opportunity I feel for the City of Merritt and the citizens of Merritt not to be hamstrung any longer,” Dafoe said of repairs the sports box needs.

Dafoe told the Herald the club can still use the sports box for pickle ball without the retrofit, but it would be too dangerous due to the fact that it can get extremely slippery with any condensation that falls on it.

At the meeting, Coun. Mike Goetz said that while the facility was originally intended to be used only for lacrosse, the council of the day decided it would be a better idea to make it a multi-use facility.

“What’s not to say a years from now somebody else comes along and says I want to start X, Y, Z, but we can’t because … it can only be used for one thing,” said Goetz.

“Citizens of the community paid for that and citizens of the community expect to use it,” he said. “I think if we’re going to do this kind of thing you need to go to the public and say how do you feel about this, because it may it may not get used a lot, but it was built as a multi-use box.”

Council voted 5-1 in favour of having a special council meeting on the matter of whether or not to support the Pickle Ball Club having exclusive use of the facility. Only Mayor Menard voted in opposition.

Coun. Dave Baker was not in attendance for the meeting on Tuesday.

At a special council meeting, council can make decisions like at any other regular meeting and requires just 24 hours’ notice before holding one, City of Merritt corporate officer Melisa Miles told the Herald.

The multi-use sports box is a little more than two years removed from being opened. This past winter was flooded for ice skating for the first time.

The City of Merritt’s recently adopted parks master plan recommends that the city should “reassess the Central Park multi-use sports box, should usage remain low and isolated to only a few user groups.” It goes on to state that if this is the case the city should look into examining alternative operating models and the development of business plans for each model. 

6 Comments

  1. Amber Bjorkman

    June 15, 2017 at 3:19 pm

    Although I have nothing against pickle ball, this will probably be the most expensive pickle ball court in the province. I can’t believe that after going over budget on a “multi use” sports box that is likely too small for its original use as a lacrosse box, we, the taxpayers are going to be asked to put another 90,000.00 into a box that is only used by those who play pickle ball. I didn’t realize there were that many pickle ball players in Merritt. If this is done, then I am assuming it will not be able to be used as an outdoor ice rink in the winter. I, for one, am against throwing good money after bad!

  2. Anita Wessel

    June 16, 2017 at 12:07 am

    “give the million dollar facility to the Merritt Pickle Ball Club for their exclusive use.” Surely this can’t mean they give ownership of the multi-use facility to the club but just that they allow them ‘exclusive use’ of it. $90,000 minus $25,000 = $65,000. more from taxpayers. I’d like to hear from the lacrosse club in particular as to why they make so little use of the outdoor box. Is it because it was placed too close to the road for lacrosse balls to be safely shot toward the goal? Would lacrosse players use it more if the end guards behind the net were higher? If retro-fitting for pickle ball then makes it useable for only one sport then the whole purpose of multi-use is lost. Don’t rush this decision. More grants will come along but once the surface is altered it will cost a whole lot more to undo that if pickle-ball falls out of favour in a few years. Ask not only the city staff and the lacrosse club but also the other groups that use this great outdoor arena. What are the reason it is underused by the other groups?

  3. Dave FInch

    June 16, 2017 at 7:20 am

    I agree, as taxpayers, once again we are going to foot a bill which will allow only one user group access to a million dollar facility. It seems that our city council loves to spend money but has done nothing to expand the tax base, blocking every new industry from coming to Merritt. I can only hope that other user groups and the kids of this community rally and show up at that meeting next Tuesday.

  4. Lena Nicholson

    June 16, 2017 at 11:06 am

    I think that the public should most certainly have input on this matter. I sent an email to all of Merritt Councillors and Mayor to express my opinion. It doesn’t make financial sense to spend more money on the facility to then make it exclusive to just one set of users.

  5. Tyler

    June 17, 2017 at 2:15 pm

    How bout add to the skateboard park like they said they would if it stayed clean for a year, years ago!

  6. Connie Rauch

    June 18, 2017 at 7:18 pm

    This is absolutely ridiculous this should be kept as multi use. While I recognize that pickle ball is a growing sport some planning to incorporate it into the community must be a process. The Central Park Master Plan which cost a minimum of $30,000 to develop was started decades ago. When the Ball Association began the process of repairing the old ball fields, construction and provision of the children’s playground, and lobbied for the construction of new fields we input thousands upon thousands of dollars and work in kind over 10 years. It took 20 years to get the park where it is today. It is time our City and representatives became more creative with options to minimize the financial impact of their poor decisions. Our town needs to grow and flourish so it can provide decent paying jobs and attract new residents. Once we have that in place the other nice to have things will come. The answer isn’t to keep charging more on property taxes. It is time to make this small city what it should be. It should be a city with opportunity for all residents and it should not continue to be a City of missed opportunities.

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