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Murrells Inlet: Curtain rises on new community center

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

A new community center for Murrells Inlet becomes a reality today with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and open house beginning at 5:30 p.m.

The $1.24 million multi-purpose facility near the intersection of Vaux Hall and Murrells Inlet roads has been in the works for more than a decade, held up while members of the community agonized over tearing down their old schoolhouse.

“All good things come to those who wait,” said Georgetown County Council Member Jerry Oakley.

The community center was a priority in the county’s Capital Improvement Plan in 1998, he said, and received $235,000 in seed money through the efforts of state Sen. Ray Cleary. “From that point forward,” Oakley said, “most of the delay was deciding where to put it. Initially, some folks did not want to part with their old school building because of closely held memories. We looked at alternatives across Highway 17 on Wachesaw Road, but eventually everyone agreed that the school building was too old, had too many problems and couldn’t be rescued at any reasonable cost. That process took time, and now it’s a reality.”

Jackie Broach, spokeswoman for the county, remembers an early meeting about the community center being held in a broom closet because the old school was so crowded with activities. The finished product, a building with 7,700 square feet, was designed with flexibility in mind. There are three classrooms and offices for recreation staff and sheriff’s deputies. The main space is a 3,000-square foot auditorium that can accommodate entertainment, receptions or banquets. A permanent stage comes with extensions that can be configured as a catwalk for fashion shows or theater-in-the-round.

The unique feature of the community center is telescoping theater seating that folds against the back wall. It was purchased with the Murrells Inlet Community Theater in mind but has a variety of potential uses when coupled with additional stacked seating with matching upholstery, according to Beth Goodale, director of the Georgetown County Parks and Recreation Department.

Tables and chairs would allow for a dinner theater performance served from a catering kitchen backstage. “A lot of that gives more flexibility,” Goodale said.

June Jordan, a member of the theater group, said they can’t wait to get into the facility after taking their performances on the road for two years. A traveling repertory troupe called Second Stage has performed at homeowners associations, service clubs and the library.

“Getting the portable stages, backdrop, light-sound equipment and props out of the storage unit and hauled to the venue was quite a feat,” Jordan said. “Each performance involved many hours of loading and unloading and setting up equipment as well as being there for run-through and tech checks, coming early and leaving late.”

She found it a pleasant coincidence that the traveling troupe’s final show will be at the Waccamaw Library today, giving members time to attend the ribbon-cutting. “We’ve got a tight schedule,” she said.

Colored concrete floors in the main hall and other rooms provide the kind of efficient maintenance Goodale wanted when architectural firm Tych and Walker and builder Coastal Structures were hired as a design-build team.

“They were very innovative from the beginning,” Goodale said, “with some really nice ideas. We got some touches inside that were the product of that design, a fishing village theme. The wood over the doorway is cedar that they located in some special milling place. It’s beautiful wood that we were able to get because of the economies of the job.”

Goodale said the facility has exceeded her expectations. “I think the public is going to be absolutely thrilled,” she said. “We’re going to find many uses we never even imagined in the old facility.”

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