Questions raised about new DI recreation center design
A brand new City of Charleston Recreation Center is coming to Daniel Island – but will it score when it comes to adequately serving the community’s needs?
Some say no and they are pushing the city to reconsider the facility’s design before construction begins next month.
“Let’s not build something just for the sake of building it,” said Shawn Pinkston, an island resident who has served as an officer in the Daniel Island Neighborhood Association (DINA) and a board member for the Daniel Island Community Association. “…My take is as soon as that shovel hits the ground, it’s going to build a community recreational center that underserves the community.”
Pinkston and a few other island residents feel the design’s one full-size basketball court will not be enough to accommodate all of the local athletes in need of gym space.
“I coached rec leagues on the island,” added Pinkston, a local attorney. “I participate in a number of events on the island, my children participate in a number of events on the island. This is something that’s not just important to me. This is our chance to get it right.”
Jim Clifford has been an island resident for 14 years. His kids have also been involved in sports on the island.
“Why don’t we take some time and do it right and try to accommodate as best we can?” asked Clifford. “…This space is woefully shy of what the kids need.”
Per a contractual agreement, Daniel Island School (DIS) must provide the City of Charleston Recreation Department with 500 hours of time in the school gym per year in exchange for the City offering the school use of their park space behind the facility.
“It’s really a challenge for these kids to get enough practice time or get enough time to be competitive in those winter sports,” said Clifford.
“We’ve got some incredible talent and great athletes,” added Kevin Brookes, whose sons play in the Trident Basketball League representing DIS. “But when you don’t have adequate space for practicing, it totally leaves our kids at a disadvantage competitively.”
Both Clifford and Brookes believe the new center’s one court will be inadequate from the start. Longtime Charleston area basketball Coach Steve Meyers agrees.
“It is not sufficient,” said Meyers, who offers basketball camps on Daniel Island each year. “Because that’s basically what they have right now at the Daniel Island School…All they’re doing is robbing Peter to pay Paul if they just build one building with one court…If the City was smart and they built this the right way, it would basically pay for itself.”
But, according to Jason Kronsberg, director of parks for the City of Charleston, the current design represents years of planning and is the best they can do given their limitations.
“We’re working within the land space that we have and the budget that we have,” he said.
“We just couldn’t accommodate another gym into that footprint.”
After a lengthy public input process, conceptual designs for the new recreation center were initially unveiled to the community at a DINA meeting in February of this year. At the time, island residents Frank Walsh and Marcia Miller, who represent DINA on a citizen sub-committee for the recreation center, both expressed concern that the facility needed more meeting space for special programs. So a few tweaks were made and new designs were released by the City in May.
The refined floor plan grew the building a little over 1,400 square feet and includes a 3,400 square foot meeting room that can be divided into separate spaces via a sliding partition wall to accommodate two different gatherings at the same time.
“There is one basketball court,” said Pinkston. “There is 3,400 square feet of meeting space that cannot be converted to anything other than meeting space…You can’t play basketball, you can’t play volleyball, you can’t do any of that because it can’t be converted. Why not have at least another half court that can be converted to that meeting space?”
Clifford stated that he and a few other parents met with City staffers in May to convey their thoughts on the design.
“Let’s have some flexibility and that was the recommendation,” he said. “They came back and said there was no possibility with that idea.”
City Councilman Gary White, also an island resident, was present for the meeting with Clifford and others and felt all options were weighed to come up with the best solution.
“We went through a fairly lengthy discussion with them,” noted White, who said he has worked on this project with the City for about eight years. “The City planning, capital projects and staff had already gone through all of those iterations, trying to find more space to do more. The reality of it is that we have a fairly diverse community…To pack all the programming that we want to get into the space that we have available and the budget we have available, it’s pretty challenging to do anything more than what we’ve been able to accomplish.”
TRANSPARENCY AND INPUT
Pinkston questioned the City’s transparency in the process, arguing that once the designs were created and presented, there was very little that could be done to change them.
“That’s not a win for Daniel Island and it’s not a win for the city of Charleston,” he added.
“We did meet with Councilmember White and a subcommittee on many occasions to discuss this,” stated Kronsberg. “…We finalized our program, met with the mayor and reviewed it, came up with our drawing schematics, and fit everything we could in there based on the amount of space that we had. There was a subsequent revision of the drawings after a meeting with some community residents that we feel improved the plan and created some more spaces for people to gather. But in general, we feel that it’s been a pretty good process.”
According to White, the development agreement between the City and the Daniel Island Company initially called for a $5.3 million facility to be built, but the cost of the new center has now climbed to $8.5 million. The agreement also calls for construction to begin by September.
“We only have a certain amount of money to be able to use and when that’s gone, it’s gone,” said White, who has worked to find alternative funding sources to pay for the increase. “We’ve not only met the budgetary requirement per the development agreement, we’ve well exceeded it, and we did it because we wanted to be able to pack as much into the site as possible.”
As far as feedback during the process, the community has had ample opportunities to offer input, he said.
“We had two or three rounds of charettes and public input sessions and surveys, and that was three to four years ago. We took all that data…and we basically turned that over to the architects and said ok here’s what we have to put into the space that we have to work with.”
Daniel Island Neighborhood Association President Marie Delcioppo trusts the City’s process and stands behind the work they have done thus far.
“From the neighborhood association standpoint, I certainly appreciate residents’ input and we respect and value their opinions, but there is a process to things and at some point you have to cut that off and the project needs to move forward,” she said. “So if the City says ‘hey, yes we can look at this and maybe we can refigure some things,’ that’s fine. If the City says this is the best we can do to accommodate the majority of the needs within the confines of the budget and space, then that’s appropriate.”
Delcioppo called on community members to get engaged in DINA as way to express concerns.
“I’d rather get ahead of issues and be proactive and I think the recreation center is a real unfortunate example of - we’re having to react, as opposed to on the front end when we were putting out all of these communications...Where were all of these voices then?”
White said he did explore the idea of pushing out walls in the center to add at least a little more gym space, but it turned out to be cost prohibitive. As for converting the meeting room(s) to “flexible” space, he is open to exploring the concept with City staffers.
“I am going to try to further that discussion, because I think that if we can, we should,” said White.
Additionally, White is confident that some of the pressure the City has currently using the DIS facility will be offset with the new center. But Clifford, Brookes and Pinkston are holding out hope that there is still time to discuss the plans further.
“Our goal is for the City to listen to the community to not move forward with the current design,” said Brookes. “We’re at a point where we can regroup and redesign it to where it will serve the community…and the community is going to continue to grow.”
“Right now, we have use of 500 hours in a gym for a basketball court,” countered White. “We’re now going to have a facility that’s open to the public for the city’s purposes year round and we are contemplating having it open seven days week. To say we’re going to be 100 percent better than we are, we’re probably going to be 1,000 percent better than we are because we are going to have something that’s more than 500 hours of use in a given year.”
But Pinkston sees more opportunity in the facility’s potential.
“This building ought to be the crown jewel of the Charleston Recreation Department,” added Pinkston. “We’ve waited 20 plus years since that first agreement was signed…No one wants that agreement to blow up…There can certainly be other amendments made as it relates to timelines...Where there is a will, there is a way.”
A tentative groundbreaking ceremony for the new center is slated for late September.