City picks landscape architects for pickleball courts

Oak Harbor approved an agreement for a company to create a plan for new pickleball courts.

Unanimously, Oak Harbor city council approved an agreement for a company to create a plan for new pickleball courts.

The $78,100 project, awarded to RWD Landscape Architects, will lead to eight new pickleball courts in either Sumner or Fort Nugent Park.

At an April 2023 workshop, the parks and recreation advisory committee recommended to divert funding from improving the school district’s pickleball courts to ones built on city property with Americans with Disabilities Act accommodations, fencing, benches and picnic tables.

They looked at four parks originally, settling on Sumner or Fort Nugent, said Parks and Rec Director Brian Smith. Sumner would need to remove the playground and improvements to the parking lot. Fort Nugent may work, but they need to “test the soil.”

While plan funding has been approved, Smith will now need to go after funding for construction. Parks and rec has applied to the Recreational and Conservation Office’s Youth Facilities and Community Outdoor Athletic Facilities grants. State Rep. Clyde Shavers is also interested in supporting the facility during the next legislative session budgeting process, Smith said.

According to Oak Harbor resident Marc Dejong, the plan for the new courts is great but not fast enough.

The pickleball courts at Rotary Park are “barely playable,” he said, citing tripping hazards. These courts are right by the chamber of commerce and are a poor representation of the community.

This park doesn’t come from council funding, Dejong acknowledged, but visitors who come to play see it in disrepair and are not considering which department is responsible.

Pat Lamont, treasurer of the North Whidbey Picklers, said the club pays $900 a month to play pickleball in different facilities year-round. While the new courts are a good idea, they will not reduce this fee because they will not accommodate poor weather.

North Whidbey Picklers has 30 members with 15 on the waitlist and active walk-ins, said Vice President Connie Punch. Pickleball is the fastest growing sport in the nation for the fifth consecutive year because people of all ages can participate.

“I’m sure the eight (new courts) will be great, and you’ll see that even more will be needed within a short amount of time,” she said.

According to Parks and Rec Commissioner Tom Jones, Sequim has 80 courts and a membership of over 400 pickleball players. Skagit Valley College in Mount Vernon has 900 pickleball players, and Oak Harbor’s membership is capped because of space.

“Don’t get hung up on a low membership number, because that’s not representative of what we’re going to see when we get new courts,” he said.

With the new courts comes clinics, lessons and tournaments, events that will drive in more people of all ages, he said.

A total of $50,000 of the $78,100 was pre-approved, as that funding originally was meant to upgrade Rotary Park, said Councilmember Jim Woessner. When the quote came in much higher for the upgrades, council shifted those funds to go toward pickleball courts.

“I think there’s no doubt that pickleball is replacing tennis and some other sports,” he said. “I remember when tetherball was in every park, and we need to update our facilities as times change.”

Similarly, he asked, if $78,100 goes toward the plan, what happens if they cannot find the funds for the much higher price tag of implementing it?

There are a lot of alternative funding options, Smith said. The department will continue to apply for grants, and historically state representatives have been very supportive with funding.

“We’ll just keep applying for grants. We’ll get it. Trust the process. It will happen,” Smith said. “I have no doubt we’ll have pickleball courts, and I’ll need a little help on my backhand and how to keep people out of my kitchen, but it’s a matter of timing.”

A key part of this is the passion of the players, said Councilmember Shane Hoffmire, some of whom showed their support at the meeting by donning team shirts.

“South Whidbey has Pickles Deli, love it. We have the North Whidbey Picklers, so after this, I hope someone’s around, I’d love to know where to get one of those pink shirts,” he said. “If the North Whidbey Picklers are as diligent with reaching out to our state representatives as they have been with us, it certainly will happen.”

The eight new courts are ultimately a smaller project on the path to a larger one, a rec center, said Councilmember Eric Marshall. The rec center will provide long-term foul weather solutions and otherwise provide more opportunity for the community.