Deep Well officials are hustling to find a new location after learning last month their building is targeted for demolition to make way for a longer runway at the Hilton Head Island Airport.
As an "unintended consequence" of airport expansion and a Federal Aviation Administration safety requirement, the nonprofit organization would have to vacate its building, which it has occupied since 2004, within 13 to 24 months, according to preliminary information from Beaufort County.
The Deep Well Project has created a committee of volunteers and board members to find a similar building at mid-island that would offer the same convenience and space.
Hilton Head Island Rotary helped raise more than $1 million for Deep Well in the early 2000s to build and maintain the 6,400-square-foot building, named after Deep Well founder Charlotte Heinrichs.
That was before an airport development plan identified the property for purchase to accommodate planned improvements.
"We believe it's critical that islanders understand what is occurring and that it will not interfere with our continuing to provide support for islanders in need," Deep Well executive director Betsy Doughtie said. "It will be business as usual."
Hank Noble, Deep Well board member, added, "We will move heaven and Earth so operational donations and services are not diminished one iota."
"Deep Well is not a building. Our mission will continue, and it is vital our donors don't get scared off."
The property is one of seven needed to straighten, lengthen and relocate two taxiways and extend the runway from 4,300 feet to 5,000 feet.
The Deep Well building, along with Insty-Prints and a metal storage building at the north end of the runway, are needed to extend one of two taxiways that planes will use to get to and from the longer runway.
At the south end of the runway, the properties slated for purchase are the Airport Office Park on Dillon Road, Gochnauer Heating, Distinctive Granite & Marble's warehouse and another property off Hunter Road.
However, the county might not start buying the properties for another two years or more, if at all, county airports director Paul Andres said.
The FAA will not help pay for land purchases needed for airport improvements until an environmental assessment and cost-benefit analysis are completed.
"We're about six months into a process that could last up to 18 months," Andres said of the two studies. "Nothing on (the north) end of the airport can happen until that is completed and approved by the FAA."
That leaves Deep Well in a bind. Find a good deal and snatch up a new location now before it's too late? Or wait to see if it'll have to move and run the risk of not finding a location in time?
"We definitely have to get something lined up," Doughtie said. "We're in the beginning process and not sure how we'll go about that yet, but we're not going to let this stop us from doing what we are here to do."
The county says it can't be more certain about its plans yet, but will try to prevent disruptions to Deep Well.
"We can't offer to buy the building today, because we don't know if that will happen," county attorney Joshua Gruber said. "We're told by the FAA that we have to purchase the property for safety reasons, and we'll work with Deep Well to the extent we can so their functions are not interrupted by that occurring."
Deep Well provides a broad range of social services for poor working families, the disabled, the sick and the elderly.
Last year it served about 65,000 meals to more than 3,000 people, sheltered the homeless for 191 nights and repaired 83 homes, according to the organization. It also provides help with rent, utility bills, medical care, daycare, school uniforms and supplies, clothing, transportation costs and more.
Driven largely by volunteers, with three paid employees, the nonprofit began in 1973 to improve drinking water after discovering islanders were getting sick because their wells were too shallow.
Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/EyeOnHiltonHead