Oak Island town staff and consultants have rolled out a plan for parks, recreation and open spaces for the next decade. The 316-page draft covers questions large and small, and examines what the town could do to best serve residents for the coming decade.
Town Council will consider the plan at its regular January 13 meeting at 6 p.m. and again during its annual planning retreat in February.
Broadly speaking, the document considers land acquisition; facility and park development; programs, services and events; an overview of facilities and recommendations based on a survey; several public information sessions; input from the Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee; and feedback from several focus groups.
Wants, wishes and needs span the range of possibilities, but two schools of thought seem to dominate the report: relatively straightforward requests at multiple locations and reconstruction of the town’s main Recreation Center to meet current desires.
Multiple respondents asked for major upgrades to the rec center. The consultants also said residents want to see significant improvements at Middleton Park and the Kevin Bell Skate Park, Bill Smith Park, and The Point.
The rec center is a central need, some town officials said. The facility is outdated, cramped and has issues with showers and restrooms.
The draft plan stated that respondents asked for, an indoor pool; gymnasium; expanded exercise, fitness and aerobics rooms; storage; and office spaces. They also asked that, in the meantime, the town: renovate the restrooms, shower and locker areas; upgrade the weight room; resurface and illuminate the basketball courts; install a bocci ball court; re-mark the shuffleboard court; add signs about the nature trail; add WiFi and charging stations; and issue key cards for access around the clock.
Tearing down the rec center and building a larger, modern facility could happen at the existing site, said Parks and Recreation Director Rebecca Squires. The larger question is always money, and the undertaking would cost millions.
“Building a new recreation center is the biggest thing to come out of it,” Council Member Loman Scott said of the draft report. “Now is not an opportune time with the needs we have trying to find sand and work on the beach. It’s something we are going to look at.”
Scott said that with the loans for Town Hall and the Police Station being paid off in the next year or so, the town could consider other capital projects. Part of that process will come up at the February 6 budget retreat that begins at 9 a.m. at 801 Ocean event center.
Squires said recommendations such as the rec center would take years of planning and saving, but some of the plan’s suggestions could happen more quickly. The plan stated that many users wanted better facility maintenance. One section called for the department to have its own dedicated maintenance staff so that parks and recreation would not have to rely on another department for basic needs.
Multiple respondents asked for more park facilities to have shaded areas, permanent restrooms, outdoor showers where practical, water fountains and permanent trash and recycling receptacles.
The report also mentioned acquiring land in the near future with the idea of:
“1) appropriate and suitable for a comprehensive, safe and functional non-vehicular pedestrian, walking, hiking and bicycle transportation network and system;
appropriate and suitable for a neighborhood park at the west end of the island; and
3) appropriate and suitable for public access and amenities to the oceanfront beach, creeks, sounds, estuarine waters, canals and marshes in and surrounding the Town of Oak Island.”
Some of the recommendations elsewhere on the island include:
Middleton Park: tennis backboards, shade at the splash park, shade for the bandshell area, permanent trash/recycling receptacles, water fountains for people and pets, a second, well-marked crosswalk at East Beach Drive, WiFi and device chargers.
Bill Smith Park: Improvements to the dog park, restrooms near the kayak launch, adedicated sand volleyball court, play structures for children, and Wifi/charging stations.
Kevin Bell Skate Park: Rebuild to current standards with a concrete base, add permanent trash and recycling receptacles and water fountains, and replace the metal gazebo with a wooden one.
The Point: Add permanent restrooms with an outdoor shower, foot-washing stations and try to expand parking.
The report also cited needs for better bicycle and walking paths that are interconnected, especially to other communities. It noted that if new facilities are created, the town would need to budget for, and hire, additional staff.