Hilton Head committee endorses ambitious plans for rec center expansion

A plan for $12 million to $13 million in additions and renovations to the Island Recreation Center over the next six to eight years, including a new senior center and aquatics facility, was approved Tuesday by a town committee.

Members of the Hilton Head Island Public Facilities Committee recommended the plan move forward, but questioned whether the project, which would require a tax increase and higher usage fees, would be embraced by the community during a slow economy.

"I'm all for this. The question is, are all our citizens?" said committee member George Williams Jr. "Are we willing to borrow and put on our millage -- on our property taxes -- to pay for this over a period of time?"

The town hired Lee & Parker Architects, FWA Group and Mission Resources Group to examine the center's needs and estimate renovation costs. The $50,000 feasibility study presented to the committee Tuesday recommends three construction phases:

  • Phase 1: Renovate offices and restrooms; upgrade and enclose the outdoor pool; build an outdoor splash pool and play area for children; add parking spaces.
  • Phase 2: Build a 16,440-square-foot indoor gym; add parking. The existing gym is 13,686 square feet.
  • Phase 3: Build a new 10-lane, 25 meter by 25 yard enclosed pool and turn the current pool into a warm-water tank for senior water aerobics and recreation.
  • Center officials say they have outgrown the building, which opened in 1988.

    "There is a major constraint of what can be done at the rec center because of the severe limitations of the facility," said Paul Jacobson, president of Mission Resources Group.


    The plan calls for spending $430,000 to $985,000 to build a senior center.

    The study outlined several options, including $630,000 to build a 4,500-square-foot center beside the rec center. Seniors, though, oppose such an option, according to a 2008 recreation survey conducted by Leisure Vision on behalf of People for the Park. Seniors said they wanted a facility of their own and did not want programs for school-aged children in the same building. Putting them in the same building would save $130,000 annually, the study said.

    Tom Parker with Lee & Parker Architects said seniors did not want to be exposed to childhood illnesses, noise and congestion. The two groups also have widely differing equipment needs, he said.

    The other options include $985,000 to build a 6,000-square-foot building on one acre elsewhere; $430,000 to renovate 6,000 square feet of vacant retail space at the Festival Center; or $462,000 to renovate 6,600 square feet of vacant retail space at Island Crossing.

    Parker said the 2,100-square-foot space for the SHARE Center for Active Adults at 6 Office Way is too small to accommodate more than one function at a time and lacks appropriate exercise equipment and amenities.

    Yearly fees of $75 to $100 might be charged at the new center but that revenue was not included in cost calculations. SHARE center patrons also could raise money for a scholarship to assist those who cannot afford the fees, Parker said.


    The town would assume an estimated $550,000 a year in new debt over 20 years to pay for the project, said town finance director Susan Simmons, requiring a tax increase of half a mill to one mill.

    The town also would have to find another $180,000 from hospitality tax revenue to subsidize the rec center's operating budget after construction is finished.

    Total expenses, including the senior center, are estimated to grow $608,500 compared to the current fiscal year budget of about $1.7 million, according to the study. The town's contribution would increase from roughly $617,000 a year to about $798,000.

    The town's contribution would be offset by a proposed 10 percent fee increase and an estimated 30 percent increase in use of the facility, the study said.

    Two full-time staff members would be added: an aquatics director and a maintenance worker, according to the study.

    Frank Soule, the center's executive director, said rec center management would staff the expanded programs by hiring additional part-time employees as needed.


    The committee voted unanimously to recommend that Town Council endorse the findings and recommendations, and direct staff to develop a cost estimate and scope of work to prepare a master plan for the project. Town Council is expected to consider the issue Feb. 1.

    Council budgeted $95,000 in 2009 for a feasibility study and master plan. About $45,000 is left. Scott Liggett, director of public projects and facilities, said the master plan would probably take six months to complete.

    Council would then determine whether the projects should be funded, he said.

    The earliest the project could receive money from the town's capital projects fund is 2013, he said.