‘Think beyond the rink’, Penetanguishene marks former PSS land for future rec centre

·4 min read

There’s no need to stretch those picketing arms or protest legs for quite some time, as Penetanguishene members of council only approved the designation of lands of 51 Dunlop St. for a recreation centre and not its final usage, whatever that may be.

At a recent special committee of the whole meeting, members of Penetanguishene council and the public attended an overview of the former Penetanguishene Secondary School property, which was demolished last year and purchased by the town for future development.

That development included a proposed multi-use recreation centre (MURC) as introduced through a 2021 arena and recreation centre study which estimated a cost between $35 million to $50 million for a new facility which would replace the aging Penetanguishene Memorial Community Centre (PMCC) built in 1954 and the Penetanguishene Curling Club (PCC) build in 1973, with an option to maintain the PCC at a cost of $7 million annually.

Following the information from the 166-page study and a 54-slide presentation, residents voiced their support and concerns regarding the proposed project, while leaning away from the purpose of the immediate meeting. Mayor Doug Rawson stepped in to clarify.

“(The) motion before us is designating the lands to move forward with a concept of the multi-use recreational centre,” Rawson explained to residents in attendance. “We haven’t made a decision on a pool, an arena, a curling club, or racquetball courts. It’s designated for recreational purposes. There will be much more consultation work (ahead).”

All members of the committee thanked staff and the previous council for their efforts in bringing the topic from its original study forward to its being addressed that evening. Some members of council also offered questions regarding viability to its end purpose.

Coun. George Vadeboncoeur noted that as per comprehensive assessments which occur every five years as mandated by the province, he would like to see a thorough structural and mechanical assessment of the PCC for the 2024 analysis to see if it could be repurposed or continued.

He also supported the concept of partnerships with North Simcoe organizations, including the Protestant Separate School Board which could potentially look at partnering with Burkevale School with regards to a gymnasium.

Deputy Mayor Dan La Rose offered his views that operating costs which could increase user fees could be prohibitive, ultimately sending users to other facilities if not approached correctly. Coun. Bill Waters also shared concerns about operating costs.

In explanation to several residents’ concerns, recreation director Sherry Desjardins assured the public that the key was to “think beyond the rink” with local user groups such as the Askennonia Senior Centre and Boys and Girls Club of North Simcoe wanting to provide programs, but having no space in the town to do so, which a community recreation centre would be able to provide.

Resident Jill St. Amant, a former council member from the previous term, affirmed that the designation of land was just the beginning with many partnership opportunities to expand.

“When you have a facility like that, it’s going to attract more businesses and increased economic development within the area. I think it’s a great way to go,” said St. Amant.

Rawson also praised the report and scope of what lay ahead.

“I also liked one of the pieces in the report that spoke about really working with our neighbours,” said Rawson. “If we look to Midland, Tiny Township and Tay Township, there’s an opportunity to look at how we can leverage assets, and that we’re not replicating this and we’re looking from asset growth across North Simcoe.

“I think we’re doing the right thing by designating the land and then taking our time. This might happen in 25 years from now, it might happen seven years from now; we don’t know but we’re starting the first step moving forward,” said Rawson.

The staff report, arena and recreation centre study and slideshow for 51 Dunlop St. can be located on the agenda page of the Town of Penetanguishene website.

Meetings of Penetanguishene council are held on the second Wednesday of each month, and can be watched live on Rogers TV cable 53, or on the Rogers TV website.

Archives of council meetings are located on the Town of Penetanguishene YouTube channel.

Derek Howard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, MidlandToday.ca