Chapel Hill: Sports

May 12, 2014

Sportsplex planning on renovations in coming year

Orange County SportsPlex executive director and general manager John Stock has a big vision for the future. His operation may be a perfect fit for Hillsborough and Orange County, but it no longer fits into its existing facility.

It would seem that our view is getting bigger and bigger, but smaller and smaller. When once Hollywood gave us the “stuff of our dreams” on 80 foot screens, television chopped down the view to fit into our living rooms. Even with big flat screen televisions, our views have gotten progressively smaller. We can access the Library of Congress, but we need a microscope to see any of it.

As Jonathan Swift said, however, “Vision is the art of seeing the invisible.” And “invisible” fits on any screen, on any landscape, and in EVERY shape and size.

Orange County SportsPlex executive director and general manager John Stock has a big vision for the future. His operation may be a perfect fit for Hillsborough and Orange County, but it no longer fits into its existing facility.

Plans for self-funded development will include enhancements to the lobby, expansion of fitness facilities and changing rooms, and an entirely new field house to feature a turf field and a gymnasium-type court.

“We’d like to increase recreation here, and wellness is important,” Stock explained.

Stock said there’s “a compelling argument” why Orange county should help fund the project.

“We can fund it. We may need you (Orange County) to put some money in up front, but we can pay that back within three or four years. We can do all of those things ... so we’re in a pretty good spot there.”

While the first phase of new development should begin this summer and is due for completion before the fall, Stock said that future phases will still be dependent upon County support.

“We’ve been talking about this with the Orange County Board of Commissioners for going on two years now,” he said. “They recognize that central and northern Orange is somewhat under-served. We’ve gotten great support, but it’s one thing to put everything into a capital plan ... but it’s another thing to have them actually approve the money.”

The Orange County SportsPlex at 101 Meadowlands Drive in Hillsborough boasts itself as a place where “fun, family, and fitness meet.”

The 90,000-square-foot facility is one of only a few in the United States that offers an ice arena, aquatics center and a fitness center under one roof.

Prior to any expansion, Stock said, was a much-needed upgrade to existing facilities in the interest of community health.

“We’re such a busy pool, we felt we needed to up our game, so first wanted to announce that we’ve turned on our new ultraviolet (antibacterial) protection on all of our pools,” he said, “and we’ve put in a system that’s about as good as you can get. It provides water plant quality water. That gives us the highest level of protection there is.”

Beginning next month, the Sportsplex will begin an upgrade to a lobby that hasn’t seen renovation in the 20 years since the initial building was constructed.

“We’re also expanding the group fitness area where we’re adding a second studio. We’re adding a women’s locker room for hockey, and we’re upgrading the flooring through the bathrooms,” Stock said. “Those projects, starting in June, are completely funded by our facility. We should be done with those by the end of August.”

A second phase of expansion will include a mezzanine in the pool area similar to the one already at the ice rink, with a connection between the two. The new mezzanine, which will likely be included in next year’s budget, will almost double the dedicated fitness area.

Stock insisted that the expansions were in keeping with the huge membership growth the facility has enjoyed.

“We’re now approaching 5,000 members,” he said. The growing numbvers mean private members often share changing rooms with younger swim team members. “We’ll probably put in new private members’ lockers upstairs.”

Stock also said that the second phase of expansion will address the need to target youth obesity and other specific demographics.

“You’re seeing more fitness equipment (that) kids and middle-aged people want to work out with,” Stock said. “You’re now actually seeing circuit equipment designed for kids that’s safe, recoverable, and has less resistance. It has to be highly supervised though, and we’re also seeing more kids with special needs who maybe aren’t as involved in traditional team sports.”

A final phase of expansion in keeping with Stock’s vision for the next four years of development would be the construction of a field house to take place in 2016-2017

“This would be 34,000-35,000 square feet, and that’s what we’d need for the indoor turf,” he said. “That playing surface would have a three-lane walking track running around it. We’re finding that seniors just don’t want to be outside in the winter for example, but they also don’t want to be out when it’s 95 degrees out.”

Stock said the facility would not compete with park and recreation programs but, rather, graduate younger children into recreational sports with a head start. The field house facility is expected to include a gym-type court and space for summer camps and afterschool programs.

“We’ll be looking at indoor lacrosse, volleyball, and maybe even pickleball,” Stock said. “We also run some pretty big classes that could use some of that space.”

Due to bedrock considerations in the area, a field house would likely be built on recently acquired lots along Business 70 fronting the existing property and would likely require a walkway-type of connection from the main building.

Stock sees his vision not only as necessary to meet growing fitness demands in the area but also as financially feasible.

“We’ve done the math. ... This facility would be paid back within five years,” he said. “We’ve had record revenues this year, and there’s not a single taxpayer dollar that goes into subsidizing operations of the SportsPlex.”

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