No one can blame the executive director, the board of directors, the Town of Hilton Head Island, and assorted sponsors and partners if they breathe a collective sigh of relief upon completion of the Island Recreation Center’s expansion project in the next few months.
“It took us 12 years to get the shovel in the ground,” said the center’s top administrator Frank Soule, when ground was broken in January 2017 on the long-overdue ambitious project at 20 Wilborn Road.
“What we hope later this spring is to have the current Rec Center fully remodeled and available for usage and then hopefully, by mid- to late fall, the whole building will be available for everything,” Soule said. “Part of the mid-spring (plan) would also be all the improvements at the pool, new restrooms near the pool along with offices and expanded storage.”
Renovations and expansion will triple the size of the original 14,000-square-foot facility built in 1988. Amenities will include a new gymnasium; a new roof, doors, windows and hardware at the old gym; a new swimming pool and dome; new classrooms and child care space; a new playground; new fitness equipment; an indoor walking track; new tennis courts with lighting; a new parking lot; and more.
“It’s a signature of our community and long overdue,” Soule said. “It will be a true recreation center for residents of all ages and visitors. Now we’ll be expanding for teens, adults and seniors.”
In the past, Rec Center programs and facilities served mainly the community’s youth, who represented the majority of the 250,000 annual “participant visits,” Soule said.
“Soon, mom will be able to drop her child off for swim team practice and, instead of going home, she can come inside the Rec Center and walk a few laps upstairs, run on a treadmill or use an exercise bike,” Soule said. “A lot of times moms would be sitting in cars reading” and waiting for their kids activities to end before heading home.
Except for the pool, the Rec Center has effectively been closed since construction began in March 2017. Area schools have extended use of their rooms and facilities since then to host the center’s summer camp and the after-school kids’ programs.
The expansion firmly planted its roots when Town Council formally committed $13 million to the project in 2016 after it recovered from the costly Hurricane Matthew clean-up and could get back to planned funding allocations. It also signed off on final expansion capital improvement plans and projects.
The Island Rec Association also partnered with the People for Parks citizen-based committee to raise another $1.2 million, of which about $850,000 has been amassed so far.
“We have lots of great partnerships between civic clubs, businesses in our community and 20 or so individuals who have given to us,” Soule said.
The list is long and includes Hilton Head Rotary Club, Marriott Vacation Club, Kiwanis clubs, the Children’s Relief Fund, Floors to Go and others.
The Town of Hilton Head owns the facility and has a long-term land lease from the Beaufort County Board of Education.
Dean Rowland is a veteran senior editor and freelance writer.