By Steve Hubrecht

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The Invermere Pickleball Club was out in force once again at last week’s Invermere council meeting.

More than 20 pickleballers were in the gallery, beseeching council to let the club use the large indoor room in the Columbia Valley Centre on a temporary basis through the winter months.

As reported in previous editions of the Columbia Valley Pioneer, the Invermere Pickleball Club has grown rapidly since it launched, but earlier this year it was having trouble finding adequate space to play. The problem is partly resolved, with the pickleball club having secured use of the Invermere curling club for indoor play during shoulder seasons. But with the onset of winter, the curling club is being used for curling and the pickleball club is looking for an indoor space to call home through the snowy months.

The pickleball club asked Invermere council during a committee of the whole meeting earlier in November, to grant the club use of the Columbia Valley Centre at least three days a week from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., and to place semi-permanent lines on the floor using coloured floor tape. The club made clear that it would pay to use the space and that it would be flexible if the centre had already been booked for another event.

That request prompted a report from District of Invermere (DOI)  staff at the Tuesday, November 22 council meeting. The report not only asked council to consider the pickleball club’s request, but also emphasized the need — in staff’s opinion — to create a formal usage policy for the Columbia Valley Centre, clearly outlining which types of events and groups get priority when it comes to using the centre.

“Usage of the Columbia Valley Centre has increased to point where it is becoming difficult to find consistent days and times for some groups to run weekly sessions and rent the Columbia Valley Centre to other groups or potential users due to increased bookings,” staff wrote in a report to council. Staff later added that “some groups such as the Invermere Judo Club, and Windermere Valley Childcare (have) moved to other venues to run their programs due to a lack of consistent days and times.”

Staff asked for clarification on the centre’s role and function going forward, noting that thus far the centre has been mainly used for concerts, performances, film festivals, shows, meetings, and celebrations such as graduations and weddings, as well as yoga, and seniors fitness sessions. The report said that although some groups, such as the judo club, had made use of the centre, “the Columbia Valley Centre was not designed to serve as a multi-sports facility and has different operational characteristics than other centres such as the Columbia Lake Recreational Centre.”

The report suggested that if the centre is used “as a multi-sports facility where groups are permitted to use rackets, sticks, balls, pucks, frisbees, etc., it is anticipated that damage to the interior surfaces of the Columbia Valley Centre will occur”, citing an example from taping during a pickleball demonstration in spring 2022. It suggested other venues might be better suited for the Invermere Pickleball Club, such as the Columbia Lake Recreation Centre, the Windermere Hall, Edgewater Hall, Frank’s Rink in Edgewater (for spring, summer and fall only), and school gymnasiums in Radium, Edgewater, Canal Flats and Invermere. The report also said that many other groups and parties have already booked space at the centre into 2023 and well into 2024 and that consequently, “there are only limited opportunities to book space…in the next few weeks and months”, hinting that this may preclude the Pickleball Club’s request for use of the centre three days a week.

Pickleball Club members at the meeting were, not surprisingly, unhappy with various parts of the report and several of them stood to address council during the meeting. Almost all who spoke outlined the difficulties they’d had trying to secure playing space at the Columbia Lake Recreation Centre, and the problems with the other alternate venues proposed by district staff in the report. Carol Keshen asked just how much damage pickleball could possibly cause and how expensive it could possibly be to repair it. The question was not rhetorical, as Keshen noted Invermere mayor, Al Miller, is also owner of Home Hardware, and so has expertise in such matters.

“You’re looking at resurfacing and complete refinishing of the floor. In this room that’s a $12,000 fix, minimum,” estimated Miller in response.

“It seems to me that if there’s a dance in here, and all the girls are in stilettos, that’s going to cause more damage than anything,” pointed out pickleball club member, Jack Keshen. “The aesthetics of the floor is a very poor excuse in my opinion…(and) there’s no way a pickleball will damage anything in this building.”

He urged council to make a decision quickly, since the club needs a space to play this winter, and “we have no idea when the Columbia Lake sports complex will open to the public again.”

Pickleball club member, Jack Robertson, noted that other recreation and sports groups, such as the Gymnastics Society and the Valley Fitness Centre are looking, or have recently had to look, for new venues. “It seems to me what we need is a new recreation centre,” suggested Robertson.

That, however, is a long term answer to the pickleball club’s current needs, noted pickleball club member, Jack Hague. “I may be in my 90s by the time we get a new recreation centre,” he pointed out wryly.

“We want a solution, and we want it this winter,” interjected another pickleball club member sitting in the gallery.

Invermere councillor, Gerry Taft, suggested that council should consider the pickleball club’s request separately from creating a formal usage policy for the Columbia Valley Centre. “I think we do need to have that discussion (on a formal usage policy): Is it for the dedicated user groups that use it several times a week, or for one-off events, such as film fests? What is the vision and what is the priority, and who gets bumped? But it will take time to think about the policy, and the request from the pickleball club is urgent,” said Taft. “I don’t think it needs to get baked into all those other items.”

“The issues are intertwined,” countered Councillor Kayja Becker. “I don’t think it’s smart to make quick decisions. We need a thorough discussion.”

Invermere chief administrative officer  (CAO), Andrew Young, chimed in that “this centre (the Columbia Valley Centre) was constructed at about the same time as the Columbia Lake Recreation Centre. The Columbia Lake Centre was anticipated to be made broadly available to recreation user groups up and down the valley. The Columbia Valley Centre was designed very specifically for certain purposes that did not include ball sports.”

Young added the pickleball club members’ passion for their sport was clear, but it needs to be balanced with other people in the community “who are also passionate about their pursuits, some of which centre on this facility.”

Taft was unconvinced. “When this facility was constructed, I’d never heard of pickleball. When we talked about ball playing sports during those discussions, we were talking about basketball and tennis. Those are very different,” he said. “It doesn’t do anybody any service to kick the pickleball decision down the road…It’s not jam packed (in the Columbia Valley Centre). It’s not full 24-7. We should be less concerned about usage and more concerned about having the building full.”

He then made a motion to allow the pickleball club to use the Columbia Valley Centre on a trial basis this winter, if the Columbia Lake Recreation Centre is not available. The vote ended in a two-two tie between the four council members, meaning it did not pass.