By Jacob Flannick
Residents speckled across the Sea Islands will soon have a space to join together for recreational festivities. A roughly 25,000 sq. ft. recreation center is planned for John’s Island County Park (JICP), offering residents a variety of invigorating activities alongside various amenities, including an indoor pool, a gym, walking trail, and multi-purpose and recreation rooms.
Kiawah Town Administrator, Tumiko Rucker, responsible for spearheading the project, says the center will serve as a linchpin for the islands’ widely-dispersed population, as well as accommodate development schemes expanding throughout the area. “There’s a tremendous need for such a thing here. We don’t have anything at all that serves the entire community,” she says, noting nearby, more concentrated communities’ similarly-designed facilities on James Island and in West Ashley. “It’s unfortunate that, as the second largest island on the Eastern seaboard, we don’t have something like this.”
In an effort to incite public input and appease residents’ growing curiosity, Rucker has promoted development plans at various community meetings throughout the island and, during a Nov. 2 community meeting on John’s Island, unveiled the facility’s blueprint.
Rucker expresses enthusiasm toward the planned facility’s indoor pool, a practical feature she says may taper away islanders’ widely-held wariness toward swimming. “We’re on an island surrounded by water,” she points out, emphasizing the aerobic activity as a safety precaution. “There are a lot of residents who are afraid of the water, and we’re hoping to encourage them to learn how to swim.”
Reverend Mary Stoney, president of Sea Island Alliance of Ministries, claims more than 90 percent of residents— both young and older generations – are incapable of swimming. “I’m just praying for a community center to come to the island,” says the Reverend, noting the center will serve as a springboard to health-conscious lifestyles. “When I look at all our young children and adults on the island, I think, ‘we have no place to go.’”
Stoney, a Wadmalaw native and long-time Sea Island resident, recalls perceiving the vast, agriculturally-dominated island during her childhood years as divided into Northern and Southern regions, and says a communal space will usher in a long-awaited sense of unity among island inhabitants, as well as illuminate an awareness on pertinent island issues. “I think it’ll be a place where people will come together and talk about what’s happening on the island,” she says. “We have such a great need for something like this.”
Rucker’s ambitions toward raising a recreation center conceptualized roughly a year and a half ago, after nominated as a Fellow with Liberty Fellowship, a Spartanburg, South Carolina-based organization endorsing statewide leadership and empowering local officials to carry out beneficial, large-scale community projects. “My initial thought was to do something to benefit my community—something that could be replicated throughout the state,” she says, noting the City of Charleston postponed developing a recreation center at JICP, due to lack of funds.
Collaborating under a mentorship with Liberty Fellowship senior advisor and City of Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, Rucker’s loose plans for a recreation center quickly ballooned into a “common vision” held among city officials.
She’s pulling strings with her Liberty Fellowship colleagues toward supporting the endeavor, too.
Liberty Fellow Will Huss, president, CEO and owner of Trehel Corporation, a team of design and building professionals, is consulting with Rucker about the center’s construction, design, and financial logistics. “I’ve got a lot of experience building and designing these type of facilities,” says Huss, who’s helped construct similar venues throughout the years.
Involved in raising a recreational center roughly 10 years ago in his hometown of Clemson, Huss recognizes the benefits reaped from a shared, neighborhood locale. “It’s amazing what it’s done—it’s kind of unified our community,” he says, referring to Clemson’s recreation center. “It’s something that brings everyone together— it can minister to everybody.”
Slated to open in roughly two years as an independent, non-profit foundation, the recreation center is open to all residents, according to Rucker. “It’s something that will serve to benefit residents from surrounding islands,” she says, noting construction of the center is anticipated to commence in roughly a year and a half and span an estimated six to eight months.
In the meantime, Rucker plans on coordinating community meetings and, after considering community reviews and residents’ suggestions, will send out funding requests and nail down design plans, as well as fulfill zoning and permit requirements. “This has truly taken a shared vision in bringing it to life,” she says. “The energy and support behind bringing a recreation center to John’s Island is definitely there.”Tweet