Room for Recreation


When it opened in 1988, the Island Recreation Center offered state-of-the-art to meet the needs of Hilton Head Island’s residents.

But the island — and its residents — have changed over the decades, and when the renovated Island Rec Center reopens this month in the new Carmines Recreation Building, it will again reflect those needs.

Consisting mostly of a gymnasium and an outdoor pool for the past 30 years, the reimagined Rec Center includes a 22,000-square-foot addition that features a larger gym, an indoor walking track, a full complement of exercise machines and weights, fitness and meetings rooms, and upgraded meeting and classroom facilities.

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“We went from two bathrooms to 12,” executive director Frank Soule says with a laugh.

The Town of Hilton Head Island contributed more than $13 million for construction, while the nonprofit group People For Parks raised more than $1.1 million to equip the new building, helping pave the way for a complete transformation from a modest center to a full-service facility boasting a full range of fitness classes, recreational sports offerings and exercise options.

The “crown jewel,” according to Soule, is the second floor of the new gym, which features a 1/17-mile walking track, free weights, cardio equipment, a TRX suspension training system, and fitness rooms equipped with spin bikes where visitors can participate in live instructor-led classes or pull up a Wellbeats virtual class on the 80-inch television mounted to the wall.

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“We’ll be in the fitness class business a lot more than we were,” Soule said. “We’ll be able to do a whole variety of things that we’ve never done before.”

The cost is as low as $2 a day to use the open gym (or $5 to swim laps, $10 for access to the walking track and fitness equipment, and $15 to attend a fitness class). The center also offers weekly, monthly and annual rates ranging from $25 a month to a $900 a year all-access pass that includes unlimited use of every element of the facility, including fitness classes.

Even the existing gym got a facelift as part of the renovation, with a new floor, updated bleachers, soundproofing, expanded office space, and a new HVAC system. The entire building will be LEED-certified when completed, Soule said. The old gym will serve as the youth and teen center and include an updated preschool classroom and a computer lab where students in the after-school program can complete homework.

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The outdoor pool now has a new, larger dome with improved air return, as well as adjacent offices, restrooms and showers. Swimmers previously had to walk outside use the two restrooms in the old gym, even during winter.

“We’re really excited about that,” Soule said. “We’ve already seen an increase in lap swimming.”

Although they won’t make as big of a splash, the new building is loaded with other upgrades: new locker rooms, family restrooms, storage areas, and meeting spaces, plus a conference room. The conference room will come in handy after the new center hires an additional three or four full-time employees.

 A downstairs multipurpose space features mirrors and a ballet barre, as well as an 80-inch TV for fitness classes and presentations. A new teen room will be outfitted with interactive fitness equipment that will always be up-to-date thanks to a private endowment.

The list of community members and organizations who contributed to the project is so long that a “Wall of Gratitude” listing takes up significant real estate in the entrance to the new space.

“It’s really through community support and the support of the town that puts us where we are today,” Soule said.

And the community will see immediate dividends. Whereas the old center accommodated about 200 to 300 people a day — mostly swimmers and students in the after-school program — Soule estimates at least 500 people a day will use the expanded center.


The Island Rec Center will offer a free preview week from Jan. 7-14, including introductory pricing for memberships. The official ribbon-cutting ceremony will be at noon Jan. 31. For more information, go to