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Murrells Inlet: Groups spell out wish list for new center

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

Murrells Inlet residents wouldn’t mind having flat screen monitors in a new community center scheduled to open in 2012 — but they’d rather have comfortable chairs.

“Those are at the top of our list,” said Whitney Hills, chairman of Murrells Inlet 2020, a community revitalization group.

She and four other inlet residents comprised a focus group that met with Georgetown County recreation officials last week to make plans for the center.

They were encouraged to go all out with their desires and keep in mind that the facility will have a life expectancy of 50 years.

“This is a wish list, so just throw out all the ideas and possibilities,” instructed Beth Goodale, the county’s director of recreation. “Anything could be at this moment.”

Even so, the group kept suggestions modest.

“Speaking on behalf of the Murrells Inlet Community Theater, we’d like a room with good acoustics and lighting, a good sound stage and room for maybe 125 people,” said Chip Smith, a theater board member.

The theater, which puts on three performances a year at the center, uses industrial size tomato cans for stage lights. It has room for about 100 people and Smith said most performances sell out.

Goodale suggested the group up its capacity to 200 and add a green room to their list. Performers have no space to move around backstage in the current facility.

The community center is housed in an old school building on Murrells Inlet Road. The 7,000-square-foot facility is outmoded and in “urgent need” of repairs, including replacement of heating and cooling systems, plumbing, rest room facilities, electrical wiring and roofing.

While renovating the building was briefly considered, county staff decided it would be better to raze it and start over.

Part of the county’s capital improvement plan, the new $1.5 million facility will be about the same size as the old one and built on the same site. It will continue to house the theater, along with space for classes, meetings and events.

“If you could just give us a mack daddy version of what we have, that would be super,” Hills said.

The group wants multi-purpose space with partitions that would allow for accommodation of large events or several small meetings, a kitchen area where caterers can set up, and space where kids can play basketball.

Plans are to build the new center on the back of the 2-acre site, allowing the current center to continue operating during construction. That placement will also allow for greenspace at the front of the property.

“There’s a lot of potential to do things in the front and make it attractive,” Goodale said.

The focus group liked the sound of that and said it would be in keeping with the character of the community.

They’d like to see outdoor facilities at the center, such as a gazebo, where events can be staged, they said.

“We don’t really have anything like that,” said Jan Rice.

Goodale said focus group meetings will take place for other projects around the county in coming months.

Though some folks have complained that every community won’t have facilities such as ball parks and a pool, Goodale said a series of public meetings determined it would be better to have a few large, regional facilities than a lot of small, community facilities of lesser quality. Waccamaw Neck’s regional park will be in Litchfield.

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