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Native Islanders ask Hilton Head to save Greens Shell building

Rochelle Williams, center, places some anti-bacterial hand gel on the table while local children eat their lunch provided by 12 Jewels of Life on Wednesday, August 10, 2016, under the pavilion at Green Shell Park on Hilton Head Island. The non-profit group, headed by Williams, has been at the park every week day during the summer to offer free lunches and mentoring to children in the area.
Rochelle Williams, center, places some anti-bacterial hand gel on the table while local children eat their lunch provided by 12 Jewels of Life on Wednesday, August 10, 2016, under the pavilion at Green Shell Park on Hilton Head Island. The non-profit group, headed by Williams, has been at the park every week day during the summer to offer free lunches and mentoring to children in the area. dearley@islandpacket.com

The condemned building sat behind Rochelle Williams as she passed out sandwiches and juice to half-a-dozen children at Greens Shell Park on Tuesday.

Williams sees the building, slated for demolition by the Town of Hilton Head Island, as a place where her non-profit - 12 Jewels of Life - could feed, teach and connect with Native Island children in the neighborhood.

Town officials have said the building would cost too much to save.

“We spend about three hours every day at the park with the children,” Williams said. “The parents don’t have the time because they are out working. My job is to make sure the kids are safe and learning.”

Williams said the free program provides lunch and, most importantly, connects the children to their community. The program serves up to 25 children daily ranging in age from one to 18.

“This is my neighborhood,” Williams said. “I knew these kids’ great great grandmas.”

Greens Shell Park’s location on the north-end of the island makes it easily accessible for many Native Island families, Williams said. She said some children are able to walk or ride bikes to the park.

The parents don’t have the time because they are out working. My job is to make sure the kids are safe and learning.

Rochelle Williams, 12 Jewels of Life president

Yet, the lack of indoor space can make it hard to provide all the needed services such as computer programs or safety cooking classes, Williams said.

The building, a former landscaping business ,was inherited by the town in 2004 when it purchased the property, Julian Walls, Hilton Head facilities manager, said. He said the 1,500 square-foot structure was later deemed uninhabitable and in need of demolition in 2013.

An assessment at that time found foundation, roof, plumbing and electrical issues.

Walls said he was uncertain why the demolition had not happened.

“I can’t answer that,” Walls said,. “I believe there has just been other tasks the town was involved in and the building was not on the priority list.”

A time line for when the building will be demolished is still unknown, Walls said. He said it will be a minimum of three months.

Williams and other non-profit officials have attended multiple town government meetings in recent months asking for the renovation.

Heather Malia Rath, Town parks and recreation commissioner, said her commission is taking note of the request.

The commission makes a list of all park improvement requests from the public and staff throughout the year, Rath said. She said it then evaluates the requests and decides which ones it will ask the Town Council to fund.

“We want to approach all requests both with being mindful of immediate needs verse long term and how it helps the overall community,” Rath said.

Any funds approved by the council would not be spent until the next fiscal year starts July 1, 2017, Rath said. She said about $300,000 for park improvements were funded by the council last year.

Town council member Marc Grant said he also has started looking into the issue.

“The idea of using that building for something else has been kicked around for awhile but never seriously discussed,” Grant said.

It is possible the town could still renovate the building but costs will be high, Grant said. He said previous studies estimated renovations at $200,000.

Grant said he would support the renovation or possible rebuild but needed to do more research first.

“If there is a strong demand, I would support it,” Grant said.

Williams said the non-profit isn’t going to give up.

“These children need extra attention,” Williams said. “They need someone to do this for them.”

Teresa Moss: 843-706-8152, @TeresaIPBG

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