Town Council approves plans for rec center upgrades

Proponents of plans to expand and renovate the Island Recreation Center packed Hilton Head Island Town Council chambers in a show of support Tuesday.

The Town Council approved conceptual plans for about $12 million in additions and renovations to the center over the next six to eight years, including a new senior center and aquatics facility.

Council members voted 5-0, with Bill Ferguson absent, to direct town staff to work with a consultant to prepare a master plan. The project would require a tax increase and higher usage fees.

The master plan would establish a construction timeline, detailed cost estimates, a financing plan and required permit approvals.

"This is an important project we need to find a way to move forward," said Mayor Drew Laughlin. "We are going to have to up-grade our recreation facilities, and this information will be needed to properly prioritize" it with other planned capital improvements.

The town hired Lee & Parker Architects, FWA Group and Mission Resources Group to examine the center's needs and estimate renovation costs.

Council budgeted $95,000 in 2009 for a feasibility study and master plan. About $45,000 remains.

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 work should be funded, he said.

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

Center officials say they have outgrown the building, which opened in 1988.

Plans call for construction of a new 10-lane, 25-meter-by-25-yard enclosed pool, a new indoor gym and meeting rooms, and an outdoor splash pool for children.

The rec center's current outdoor pool would be enclosed and turned into a warm-water tank for senior water aerobics and recreation.

Town council also recommended relocating the SHARE Center for Active Adults to a larger, vacant space in one of the island's shopping centers. Proposed plans call for renovating 6,000 to 6,600 square feet of retail space at the Festival Center or Island Crossing.

The center's 2,100-square-foot space at 6 Office Way is too small to accommodate more than one function at a time and lacks appropriate exercise equipment and amenities, supporters say.

SHARE Center volunteers help with rec center programs, among them Wing Fest, the Italian and Seafood festivals and oyster roasts, said Joe Kopf, who sits on the rec center's advisory board.

"We provide a lot for our kids and families on the island, but very little, if anything, for our seniors," said Parks and Recreation Commission chairman John McCann. "They ask very little from us, but if you see the facility they have now, it's a shame.

Jim Schulze, an island visitor from Cincinnati who attended the meeting, said he was shocked at how small and outdated both centers are.

"I am thinking of relocating and it is a factor," Schulze said. "I want to know I'll be taken care of and that there is something there for me" in terms of recreation and amenities.

The town would assume an estimated $550,000 to $900,000 a year in new debt over 20 years to pay for the project, said town finance director Susan Simmons. That would require a tax increase of half a mill to one mill, she said.

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.

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.