Consultants hired to study possible locations for an aquatics center for Hilton Head Island recommend Chaplin Park over the Island Recreation Center, which would need an addition.
During a presentation Wednesday before Town Council, consultants Tom Parker and Barry Taylor said Chaplin Park offers more visibility, more space for swimming and recreation facilities, and more room for future expansion.
The aquatics center also would include a "splash pad" with water park-like features for young people.
It also would require sacrifices.
The dog park at Chaplin Park would need to be moved, and the freestanding facility would be more expensive to build and operate.
Town staff and council members acknowledged this week there is some "momentum" behind the proposed Chaplin Park site. However, these same officials acknowledge that other potential capital projects, including a separate rec center expansion, new bike paths and new parksare being considered, and the town can't afford all of them.
"You have all these things (people want) and limited funds," Hilton Head town manager Steve Riley said. "In isolation, this sounds like a great idea. But where does it fit in with everything else people want to do? ... It's a great idea, but there are lots of great ideas that can't be done."Councilman George Williams agreed. He says council has many requests for funding but limitedmoney. This is especially true for programs that seek help with operating costs, which are an annual expense.
"As we go forward and try to figure out how to make this stuff work, we are going to need support from everybody that supports the concept," he said Wednesday. "They are going to have to pay something out of their pocket to get this kind of facility; otherwise we aren't going to get it."
The discussion about the aquatics center comes on the heels of another organization that requested financial help from the town. The Arts Center of Coastal Carolina asked Town Council for -- and received -- an advance on $346,000 it wasn't scheduled to get until next year. The money, from accommodations tax revenues, was needed to keep the arts center operating through the winter.
Arts Center president and CEO Kathleen Bateson told the council that the costs of maintaining the building in Shelter Cove "have eroded our cash flow." Repair needs on the building and outstanding debt total about $5 million, she said.
Requests to improve swimming facilities on Hilton Head are nothing new.
The proposal by Parker and Taylor, of Lee and Parker Architects and FWA Group, respectively, is among the most detailed yet, however.
They suggest a freestanding facility that offers amenities for residents, as well as opportunities to generate revenue. Their plan includes an eight-lane competition pool, a three-lane warm-up pool and seating for swimming competitions. Outside, they propose building a "splash pad" with water park-like facilities for young people.
The rec center has a pool and currently offers youth and adult aquatics programs. The programs are popular but some residents view the facilities as inadequate, Mayor Drew Laughlin said.
The consultants, who have completed a three-part study of the aquatics center proposal, believe Chaplin Park can accommodate these amenities while also allowing room for future expansion.The new facility, they argue, could be a show piece for the island.
Supporters of the aquatic-center concept acknowledge the proposal has a long way to go.
No plans have been submitted for review by the town, and it's not clear how the town would pay for an estimated $7.6 million in construction, let alone higher annual operating costs.
Councilman Bill Harkins expects council will rank this and other projects competing for capital funds during its upcoming retreat. That exercise could determine when the project advances, if at all.
"I'd like to see a lot of things if we can afford it, and I am not convinced we can afford it," he said of the aquatics center project. "I am not convinced that if we do something like this, the town is prepared to support it. We haven't tested that in the community yet."
(Several days earlier when the arts center made its pitch to the council, Harkins had expressed similar concerns; so did Williams.)
Mayor Drew Laughlin doubts the aquatics center will receive capital funding next year. But he thinks it could in future years.
"There are some of us here, I am one of them, that think we do need to find a way to expand our recreational facilities."
Follow reporter Casey Conley at twitter.com/EyeOnBeaufortCo.
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