Applause broke out in Red Deer city council chambers on Monday as the St. Joseph High School location was approved for 20 new pickleball courts.
“We’re absolutely thrilled with this,” said Val Vollmin, president of Red Deer Pickleball, a group that’s grown to more than 200 members from 30 in the last five years.
The rapid growth of the sport that’s played on a smaller court than tennis has caused a space crunch in the Pines neighbourhood, where there are two permanent pickleball courts, seven temporary ones — and more traffic and noise than anticipated when club members arrive to play.
Red Deer City council moved, with considerable push from avowed pickleballer Coun. Ken Johnston, to approve $1.01 million in the 2018austerity budget to create 20 new pickleball courts. This would allow the club to grow and hold tournaments.
The justification was repeated on Monday night when council agreed to pull another $335,000 from reserves to finish the project and create fencing, a parking lot and a washroom at the site. Johnston said the sport increased activity, prolonging health and longevity, boost social interaction and “keeps old people off the street.”
Council heard that several courts would be opened, according to a schedule, for public use, and that the club was anticipating working with St.Joseph to teach pickleball to students.
Several locations were initially considered, including a spot north of Lindsay Thurber Comprehensive High School and the Gaetz Lakes Sanctuary, which raised environmental concerns.
After considering community feedback, administration recommended St. Joseph as the best location. Coun. Wong questioned whether this would impact the desirability of adjacent residential lots. But he was told that it was hard to predict whether people would like the proximity or not.
Construction will start this summer, with competition anticipated next spring.
Recreation, Parks and Culture manager Shelley Gagnon sees it as a win-win for the city and the club, as Red Deer stands to gain economically from tournaments that draw out-of-town players.
Johnston called it a “great day” for local pickleballers and the community.