New pickleball courts coming to city

The city of Oak Harbor will enter into a memorandum of understanding with the school district.

By a narrow margin, Oak Harbor City Council approved an agreement with the Oak Harbor School District to provide two additional pickleball courts in a city park.

During a council meeting Tuesday, a motion to approve Mayor Bob Severns to sign the memorandum of understanding with the district barely scraped by with a 4-3 vote, with opposing council members Shane Hoffmire, Eric Marshall and Dan Evans citing concerns with the wording of the agreement as the reasons for their nay votes.

Parks Operation Manager Don Crawford told the council during Tuesday’s meeting that pickleball’s rising popularity has led to an increased demand for local playing facilities. Pickleball, which was created on Bainbridge Island in 1965, was officially declared the state sport of Washington by the state legislature and Governor Jay Inslee last month and maintains a dedicated gaggle of enthusiasts.

“Oak Harbor community feedback over the last 10 years has been consistently prioritized toward building more pickleball courts,” Crawford said. “I can tell you right now that I get more calls about pickleball courts than just about anything else.”

While the city planned in 2019 to satiate the demand by constructing new courts in Neil Park, staff found adding courts to existing facilities in Rotary Park would be less expensive.

Rotary Park currently has four courts. Rotating these courts 90 degrees on the existing paved footprint would create sufficient space for two more courts, the city found.

The project would also include renovations such as removal of root intrusion around the court perimeter and asphalt patching.

The city will enter into a memorandum of understanding with the school district because the district owns the property. Under the agreement, the city will pay for the refurbishments, which will cost $50,000. The school district and the city will share the courts, with the district making them available for public use whenever they aren’t required for school activities.

Not all council members were satisfied by the terms of the memorandum. Marshall questioned why the city should bear the responsibility for the courts’ maintenance and repairs, as delineated in the memorandum.

“If it is a school district facility, and the school district is going to be using it and has first priority to use it during school hours, then I would think it’d be reasonable for them to share in some of that cost of maintenance,” he said.

Marshall was also concerned about putting $50,000 into a court that would not be the property of the city, especially given the memorandum’s provision that either party could withdraw from the agreement for any reason.

“The school district could just change their mind after we invest $50,000 and say, ‘No, we’re not going to allow you to use it any longer,’” he said.

Evans and Hoffmire were likewise concerned by this provision, though Hoffmire acknowledged that the freedom to terminate the agreement was “possibly common legalese.”

Marshall further worried that district priority might infringe upon city residents’ ability to utilize the courts.

In response to this concern, Crawford pointed out that the district has no formal pickleball team or program. When the district does use the courts for pickleball units, such as in physical education classes, these instances typically don’t last longer than an hour or two a day.

North Whidbey Middle School is also the only school in the district close enough to Rotary Park to utilize the courts regularly, he added.

“It is not a super utilized facility for them anyway,” he said.

Hoffmire voiced an additional concern that the school district might sign another agreement with an institution other than the city, such as a recreational pickleball league, and give the latter entity priority over other residents.

The council approved the mayor to sign the memorandum and voted to reallocate $50,000 to the court refurbishment project, both in 4-3 votes.