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HIGH ACHIEVERS: Capital Courts Training Centre puts new life into former Orleans Y gymnasium

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By Martin Cleary

The once-closed Ruddy Family YMCA-YWCA (Orleans Y) has returned to its roots… partially.

Shooting hoops is back in style inside 265 Centrum Boulevard as the large and bright gymnasium has a new tenant in Ottawa’s east end.

For the past two years, you couldn’t take shots, but you could get shots in the gym while Ottawa Public Health operated a COVID-19 vaccine clinic, which started in March, 2021.

But in January, 2022, Bob Gallagher, the president and CEO of the YMCA-YWCA National Capital Region, announced the Orleans Y would be closing and the facility sold because of the economic impact of the pandemic. The Orleans Y underwent a major expansion in 2009, which included building a spacious gymnasium, two pools and a new lobby.

Merrick Palmer, a personal and small group trainer for basketball and the co-founder of the Capital Courts Academy girls’ basketball program, breathed fresh air into the 6,500-square-foot gymnasium on May 1 by relocating his Capital Courts Training Centre inside the former Orleans Y, which was a popular and affordable recreation venue.

Not only has Palmer leased the gym to use for basketball training and set up three indoor pickleball courts, but also he has access to the front desk in the lobby, an office, air conditioning and big change rooms.

His new training venue will offer personal training memberships, pickleball court rentals and summer camps related to basketball.

Palmer also hopes to form a partnership with Altitude Gym, a wall climbing venue on the second floor, to use its 6,000-square-foot weight training room.

The two swimming pools remain closed and without a tenant.

The new Capital Courts Training Centre. Photo provided

But before posting the Open sign, Palmer had a lot of work to clean and upgrade the gym, after it was used as a public health clinic for two years.

“The hardwood floor was in very bad shape,” Palmer said. “Tables had been dragged over the floor, there was duct tape marks on the floor and scuff marks. We had to redo the floor.”

When the gymnasium was built in 2009, the contractors used drywall to build the walls, which were banged up and had to be replaced with plywood sheets.

Merrick Palmer working the game film camera at a Capital Hoops Academy game. File photo

As a way to add color and motivation to some of the large gym windows, back-lit window graphics were installed to honour key Capital Courts Academy graduates, including Merissah Russell of Louisville University and Cassandre Prosper of the University of Notre Dame.

The new training centre will allow Palmer to provide the girls in the Capital Courts Academy an improved second home for their practices and workouts seven days a week. Based out of Cairine Wilson Secondary School, the Capital Courts team uses the high school gym for its Ontario Scholastic Basketball Association games as well as practices.

Palmer and Fabienne Blizzard co-founded Capital Courts Academy in 2018 to develop and prepare elite female basketball players to compete at the university level.

By moving into a larger training centre from his location on Vimont Court in Orleans, Palmer is able to connect with an active community.

“This means I can impact more lives,” he explained. “I’m not in this to be rich. This is the wrong business for that. We have a bigger space and more staff.

“We now have a chance to expand our reach into the community, while providing leadership and guidance.”

As a way of serving most demographic groups, Palmer can set up three pickleball courts with high-quality portable nets in the gym. Players can pay a rental fee for a game and will soon be able to buy memberships. Pilates and yoga also will be available.

An open basketball gym membership is $45 a month for 10 to 12 hours.

“We didn’t want it to be crazy, say $100 a month. We wanted to encourage families to sign up,” said Palmer, who hopes to develop partnerships with the Ottawa Police Services and OC Transpo.

Palmer held the official opening for the centre on Saturday, with a huge turnout from the local basketball community, and Mayor Mark Sutcliffe among the speakers.

“It was like a dream come true,” Palmer added. “It’s really great for the community to get back in there.”

Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 50 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.

When the pandemic struck, Martin created the High Achievers “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at

Martin can be reached by e-mail at and on Twitter @martincleary.

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