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Lions Park hockey, tennis could be replaced by pickleball

Newmarket council is to consider a staff report recommending a dedicated pickleball facility at the park in the future, which would impact the community hockey rink, tennis courts
20210121-Lions Park Rink-JQ-3
File photo

As the warmer weather arrives, the dying days of the season for the Lions Park community hockey rink are here for Newmarket resident Chris Howie.

His ninth year with the community landmark is near its end, one that featured a documentary video highlighting the effort that goes into it. Next year will mark a decade that Howie has run the rink at its current location on the tennis courts, working hundreds of hours to keep it going for the community.

But next year might be the end of the rink at its current location, with the town proposing to convert the area for pickleball courts.

“I’ve had a good run with the rink,” Howie said, adding that if a bubbled pickleball facility comes in “which forces the rink to move, it really needs to be done right.” 

Newmarket's council will review a proposal March 27 about turning the Lions Park tennis courts into a dedicated pickleball facility, using funding garnered from a deal with the Shining Hill development. Staff recommends proceeding this way, but a report indicates that resurfacing work could take years and would take further investigation. The report indicates that the move would mean the community rink could not continue there.

Newmarket Mayor John Taylor reassured that nothing is imminent and the rink could be in place next season.

“The concept of a winter use for pickleball at this site is conceptual only and will not require a decision at this time,” Taylor said. “I thank the volunteers for the great work they do providing that outdoor hockey experience to the kids of Newmarket. If the site is explored in the future for winter pickleball, there will be public consultation and plenty of time to consider the pros and cons of such a move.”

Still, the staff recommendation does indicate proceeding toward making a conversion happen. 

It comes with many pickleball players seeking more play space and Newmarket tennis players indicating some opposition to mixing pickleball into the new tennis facility at the Shining Hill development. The structure has two fewer courts than expected due to site limitations, so the developer has offered to pay for two more courts at town-selected locations.

The staff report said those two tennis courts could be the equivalent of six to eight pickleball courts and suggests using the funding for pickleball courts instead. 

But Howie, an avid tennis player, said he thinks there could be cohabitation for tennis and pickleball at the new facility, with a couple of the tennis courts dedicated to pickleball instead.

“The sports should complement one another,” he said. 

The report further said using the existing Lions Park courts for pickleball has advantages, with it being more economical than developing a new location. It is also located near the Gorham Pool, which could be a shared clubhouse facility for washrooms, changerooms and a meeting room.

The report acknowledged that the community rink would not be able to continue on that site if the conversion happens, but said “staff can work with the volunteers to further develop opportunities in Lions Park for a rink to continue operation in the future.”

But the existing facility has advantages for a rink, as well, Howie said. The high-security fence means people are not getting on the ice in off-hours and potentially harming maintenance efforts. Access to hot water is also important to Howie's rink-making. 

He added that potentially maintaining a rink in a nearby field will be more challenging. 

Regardless, a new town outdoor rink is in the works outside the Ray Twinney Recreation Complex. Construction is scheduled to start this year according to an update in 2022, taking an estimated 16 to 18 months, and including a roof to protect against the elements.

Having refrigerated rinks is a good option, Howie said, adding that warmer winters pose a challenge for rink management.

Still, he also expressed concern with the Lions Park tennis courts getting converted, adding that there should be options for tennis maintained near the downtown area. 

“There should be as many sports as possible in downtown Newmarket to bring people there,” Howie said.