“NEVER UNDERESTIMATE the power of seniors!” Don Friesen says. “Seniors have the experience, the knowledge, and the wisdom.” It’s sound advice in general, but in this case the 69-year-old retiree is referring to his fellow Vernon Pickleball Association members in British Columbia’s picturesque Okanagan Valley. And what their experience, knowledge, and wisdom brought to fruition is the club’s state-of-the-art pickleball facility: 12 enclosed courts with a three-quarter-acre footprint, thought to be the largest covered dedicated pickleball complex in Canada.
“It’s a fantastic facility,” says Rob Irving, 71, another member of the club and the building committee chair. “It’s certainly a huge wow factor when you walk in.” The peak of the roof is an impressive five stories high. Four furnaces and eight huge fans (some 24 feet in diameter) help keep the courts warm in the winter and cool during summer, and the space is filled with natural light thanks to the 39,000 square feet of white tension fabric—a layered, coated woven synthetic engineered for durability—that covers the 56-ton steel structure.
We picked up on the quote from Churchill that says ‘Never let a good crisis go to waste.” Rob Irving Says.
Six years ago the facility was just a twinkle in the club’s eye. But they had a vision: Not only did they want to build dedicated pickleball courts, but they also wanted to enclose them so members could play year-round, regardless of the chilly temps that drive players indoors from late fall through winter. After leasing a plot of land in Marshall Field from the city of Vernon and funding the project through grants, loans, and donations, the club finished the first phase of building, opening the facility’s uncovered courts in 2018.
The second phase, which would enclose the massive court area, was on the horizon when Covid-19 hit: The city halted grants and loans, the gyms and rec centers the club usually rented indoor space from were no longer available, and it seemed indoor pickleball play might be delayed indefinitely. That’s when the club really rallied. “We picked up on the quote from Churchill that says ‘Never let a good crisis go to waste,’” Irving says. “So we came up with a plan to fund it [the enclosure] entirely from within the club.”
They created an aggressive timeline to inspire and motivate members, aiming to open by Christmas 2020, and launched a month-long fundraiser in May of that year. Members were offered three ways to contribute: purchasing $2,500 CAD (Canadian-dollar) debentures, which were unsecured loans to be paid back at 3 percent interest; pre-paying court fees for future pickleball-playing time; and straight donations. With more than 200 of its then 400 members participating, the club raised $1.2 million CAD. But it didn’t stop with financial donations. “The volunteer expertise was phenomenal,” says Friesen, who was also the general contractor for the job. From the efforts of journeyman electricians to those of award-winning bricklayers, more than 5,000 volunteer hours helped complete the facility.
the volunteer expertise was phenomenal,” says member Don Friesen, who was also the general contractor for the job.
Friesen recalls with a laugh the day a state inspector came by the building site. “He said, ‘Wow, Don, this is really good; I could give you contracts.’ I said, ‘Buddy! All those people digging those trenches are 70 years old; they just want to play pickleball!’” Though some delays pushed their completion date a bit, the Vernon Pickleball Association’s Okanagan Wealth Advisors Pickleball Complex opened its doors on April 30, 2021. Run almost entirely by volunteers from the now close to 700-member club, the courts are a hub of social and physical activity for residents of Vernon and beyond.
“The biggest question was, Will it work?” Friesen says. “And the truth is, it really works. People walk in the door, and they just can’t believe it. But the most important thing is, when you’re inside playing, it’s wonderful. It really is.”
If You Build It, They Will Come
A pickleball complex comes to fruition, from the first steel truss to the final fabric covering.