Hilton Head committee urges council to move ahead with rec center expansion

tbarton@islandpacket.comFebruary 5, 2014 

STAFF GRAPHIC

Alan Perry's son was 8 years old when he and other Hilton Head parents began an effort to expand the island's cramped and outdated recreation center.

By the time work is finished, he will be in college.

"We are more than eight years behind on what we need," Perry, special projects chairman for the Hilton Head Island Recreation Association, told Town Council members Tuesday.

But after years of study and back-and-forth with council over plans to expand and renovate the Island Recreation Center, town officials say they're poised to finally move ahead with construction.

Council's Public Facilities Committee voted unanimously Tuesday to recommend that the full council approve a revised master plan and cost estimates prepared by Lee & Parker Architects and The FWA Group. Council directed staff last spring to work with the consultants to eliminate an additional pool and splash pad.

The renovations call for a new gym with an elevated running track. The project also includes new parking, a playground, restrooms, field lighting and replacing the existing dome that encloses the center's outdoor pool during cold months. The existing facilities will remain, including the current gym.

The project, estimated to cost the town about $6 million, would be completed in phases, likely beginning in 2016 and 2017, said town public projects and facilities director Scott Liggett.

He said he intends to ask council in spring to authorize money in next fiscal year's budget to begin designing the various phases.

The town would likely borrow over 20 to 25 years to pay for the project and other planned improvements on the island, and it hopes to cover the costs without the need for a tax increase, finance director Susan Simmons said.

The town also would contribute another $50,000 a year to help subsidize the rec center's expanded operations after construction is finished. Beaufort County is expected to contribute an additional $30,000 a year, according to a proposed financial plan. Revenue from new programs and other income would cover the remaining $269,987 annual cost for expanded operations.

Town officials have been talking about the need to expand the center since 2008. Center officials say they have outgrown the building, which serves a population almost double the size it was built for nearly 26 years ago.

"After school right now, we have basketball practice, an after-school program and a child care program -- all three going on at the same time," center executive director Frank Soule said. "... We have a couple hundred kids every afternoon ... and some days it feels like we're on top of each other."

Soule said the new gym would allow the center to add adult programs and expand youth sports.

"It will greatly improve the programs we'll be able to offer, not only for the users we have now, but create future users, especially with the walking deck and adding a health and fitness component and expanding our meeting rooms," he said. "... Unfortunately, some of the adults have been unable to play basketball and do things at the center because space limitations have resulted in focusing mainly on youth programs. Having two gyms means we can bring back some adult programming."

The rec center would remain open during construction, Soule said.

"Right now, we have a clear focus and a very good timeline to get things completed," Soule said.

Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/IPBG_Tom.

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