Supply never seems to keep up with demand when it comes to recreational facilities in Beaufort County.
And meeting that demand costs a lot of money, as Beaufort County and municipal officials have learned over the years.
A renewed effort to see what can be done to make more use of taxpayer-funded school ball fields and gymnasiums is a good idea, but the tug and pull of competing interests won't make it a slam dunk.
Beaufort County administrator Gary Kubic says the county is exploring joint use of school facilities. The goal is to provide more public recreation facilities and opportunities without raising property taxes.
Not an easy thing to do, but well worth looking at.
Unfortunately, Beaufort County has been playing catch up on parks and recreation facilities for decades now.
The Southern Beaufort County Regional Plan, adopted in 2006, laid out $66 million in current and future needs for parks and open space. Funding sources at that time came up about $21 million short. We've made some progress since then, spending millions of dollars, but it's still not enough.
Parks and Leisure Services director Joe Penale says he has to schedule practices and games for 100 soccer teams on five fields and for 80 basketball teams in three gymnasiums.
School district, county and town officials over the years have worked out agreements for the public to use school facilities. County pools have been built on or near school campuses. The Island Recreation Center on Hilton Head Island was built on school property, to the benefit of both.
School officials have been fairly open with public use of facilities, but student use comes first and maintenance schedules can raise issues.
We saw that in 1999 when the Hilton Head Island High School tennis courts were closed to the public. Public tennis courts were few and far between in those days. School officials complained about damage to the school's courts from skateboarders and in-line skaters.
The district in 2001 came up with a plan that provided free access to municipalities as long as they helped with maintenance. (In 2007, the Town of Hilton Head Island contributed toward major repairs of the high school courts.)
But the inherent conflicts between student and public use of school athletic facilities quickly became apparent. In 2002, the district left up to the Hilton Head High's athletics director how and when the school's new sports fields would be used.
Then-director Greg Elliott warned that a strict maintenance schedule coupled with the school's needs likely would leave few days open to the public.
School officials today say they're open to public use of school facilities, but maintenance is still a factor.
Terry Dingle, the district's director of operations, said allowing turf to recover after season-long use is critical to prolonging the life of outdoor fields.
"We have to be very careful how much we do," Dingle said. "By the time we accommodate everyone, our window of time to get that field ready for its actual use for students is diminished tremendously."
All of this is not to say that more and better use of taxpayer-funded facilities can't be worked out, but it's not as easy as it might seem.
We look forward to seeing what ideas county staff comes up with.