As Tom Petty once sang, “The Waiting is the Hardest Part.”
It certainly has been a long wait for the Island Recreation Center on Hilton Head, its staff, the town and the community. Ground was broken for the ambitious expansion, renovation and complete makeover of the indoor and outdoor facilities in January 2017, and construction began two months later.
But the waiting is now over. A soft reopening was held Jan. 7, 2019, and the official grand opening of the $14.4 million capital improvements project was held with a ribbon cutting Jan. 31.
“It’s a signature of our community and long overdue,” executive director Frank Soule said in 2017 of the facility that was built in 1988. “It will be a true recreation center for residents of all ages and visitors. Now we’ll be expanding for teens, adults and seniors.”
That’s exactly what happened in this transformation from old to new.
“I feel awesome, that’s the bottom line,” he said. “It’s been a long trip, but the reality is, it’s been well worth it. … When you walk in the door, you’re going to go, ‘Wow.’ ”
The town, which owns the newly named Carmines Recreation Building, financed $13.2 million for the project and the citizen-based nonprofit People for Parks contributed $1.2 million, Soule said.
The new name honors the long-time partnership between Island Rec and the DMC Foundation, which was founded by the Carmines Family of Hilton Head Island in memory of their son and brother David McGee Carmines. Brian Carmines, David’s father, was a co-founder and early supporter of Island Rec.
For more than 10 years the two organizations have worked together to present popular community events that have raised hundreds of thousands for various nonprofits, including the Carmines Family Recreation Scholarship.
Among the sterling amenities are new fitness equipment, a new gymnasium with retractable bleachers, an expanded parking lot and front entrance, new restrooms, a second floor with a running and walking track, a new preschool and community room, group fitness studios, upgraded tennis courts with lighting, among others.
Soule said he’s hopeful that Gregory’s Playground, a Kiwanis Club initiative, will open sometime in the next six months but is still $30,000 to $50,000 short in its fundraising effort to meet the estimated $300,000 to $500,000 cost.
Membership costs are tiered depending on usage, but Soule expects 600 to 800 residents to be on-site daily, double what it used to be. The original square footage of 14,000 has been tripled.
“Our participant visits are going to get crazy, which is an understatement,” he said.
Here’s why: “There’s a huge, high ceiling, split level; you have all the energy that goes on in there,” Soule said. “You have people playing basketball, walking around the walking track upstairs or on a cardio machine, people taking classes like Zumba, yoga and other things. It’s kind of like a big ‘wow’ factor. There’s so much energy there.”
Energy devoted to wellness is contagious, but there’s something else happening at 20 Wilborn Road. “The Island Rec Center has always been common ground for our community,” Soule said.
Lowcountry resident Dean Rowland is a veteran senior editor and freelance writer.