From a new cruise ship to important decisions about the town’s Memorial Centre and former high school, 2022 is shaping up to be a busy one for Doug Leroux.
The Penetanguishene mayor and town council will have their fair share of tough decisions to grapple with over the next 10 months as they enter their third year dealing with a global pandemic.
And with a municipal election looming, some of those decisions might have political consequences.
In a wide-ranging interview, Leroux first started off by saying how happy he is to have a cruise ship again patrolling the town’s harbour with a soon-to-be-renamed Miss Midland returning to local waters after a year away in Tobermory.
“I'm sure that all of council is elated at the fact that we are going to have a new cruise ship back again after the layup of the Georgian Queen,” Leroux said, noting it also validates the town’s motto as being the Gateway to the 30,000 Islands.
“As far back as I can remember, Penetanguishene has always had a cruise ship and our dock is one of the (town’s) focal points.”
Leroux, who was born and raised in Penetanguishene, said the move should attract a fair number of visitors to the town dock.
“It's certainly a fact that it's going to benefit our local economy and our merchants and help our local attractions,” he added. “At the same time, having one (a cruise ship) here that can bring passengers out for cruises and dinners and luncheons is going to be a bonus.”
Leroux said the town will also embark on several street projects over the coming months, including work on Thompson Road.
As well, the future of the former Penetanguishene Secondary School site remains a very large piece of the town’s puzzle with the building demolition expected to soon begin.
The town purchased the property from the Simcoe County District School Board for nearly $1.3 million in late 2020 with the sale finalized last spring.
And while initial site inspections led town staff and a third-party appraiser to consider the facility in relatively good condition, a further assessment report found high levels of asbestos and suggested that interior and exterior components of the building would need extensive work.
But Leroux said the town’s motivation behind the purchase was the chance to acquire some prime real estate in a hot market.
“We knew that we were probably going to end up going this route,” Leroux said, referring to the building demolition. “And you know, the main reason we purchased PSS is for the land; approximately 13 acres of property in the centre of the municipality. There are a lot of potential things that can happen on that property.”
One possibility for the site remains a new recreational facility.
Last year, council received a report which looked at replacing the aging Penetanguishene Memorial Community Centre (PMCC) and Penetanguishene Curling Club (PCC) under one roof. The report found a modern, inclusive, hockey-oriented and curling-friendly multi-use facility, which could possibly host tournaments, may end up costing as much as $49.1 million.
A subsequent survey found strong public support for using the former high school property as a favoured location for a new facility.
“I think it’s a given that a lot of people in the municipality are thinking along those lines,” Leroux added.
But in the short term, Leroux said the arena’s roof will need replacing this year as well as upgrades to Orser Hall and the dressing rooms to bring them up to code.
“These things have to be done regardless,” he said, noting the roof replacement is necessary given leaking issues and will cost about $300,000,” so you have to do what you have to do.”
And come May when nominations for town hall open, Leroux will undoubtedly make a decision about his future leading the town.
“I still haven’t made a final decision,” Leroux said. “I feel there are a lot of things I have to see moved on and completed in 2022 that are more of a priority for me right now than deciding where I’m going to go, but I think some of those things may be part of the decision making.
“As soon as I know, I’ll let you know.”
Leroux said he and other council members along with town hall staff have also experienced major changes to their work since the pandemic took hold.
“It’s been an entirely different process,” Leroux said. “I've been on council a long time and these last two years have been a real process.
“Bringing things through and dealing with COVID has been a real eye-opener. But we’ll get through it, and it will be behind us one day.”