HARDEEVILLE, S.C.- Days after the Live Oak Regional Board of Trustees voted to close the Thunderbolt Library, one local man is coming forward in attempt to save the facility and all it stands for in the community.
O.C. Welch, president of O.C. Welch Ford and Lincoln in Hardeeville says he spent time in Thunderbolt growing up. When he found out about the library potentially closing, he knew he had to get involved.
“Somebody’s got to fight for these people,” he said.
Back in July, much to the surprise of many in Thunderbolt, Live Oak announced it would vote to close the library citing its inability to cover repairs and ongoing operating costs. Repairs included a new roof and HVAC system totaling more than $100,000 and a yearly operating cost of more than $130,000. After hearing from neighbors in a town hall in July, Live Oak decided to postpone the vote while keeping the library open to the public. The building is owned by the City of Thunderbolt while it is operated by Live Oak Public Libraries.
On Tuesday, Live Oak voted unanimously to close the library, despite several neighbors and leaders pleading for the board to keep it open. It was decided the library would remain open until October 26.
After the vote, Welch approach Live Oak and offered to cover the cost of repairs.
“What they’re doing is not right and if it’s not right, it’s wrong. And if it’s wrong, it needs to be fixed,” he said.
To him, the library is more than a place to house books and computers.
“You know, I never went to college. So education is very important and these kids, when you take that away from them, that’s like inviting them to say, ‘You know what? Why don’t y’all go play in the street, get in trouble,'” he said.
On Friday Live Oak’s Interim Executive Stephen Whigham called Welch to discuss his offer. Welch told WSAV Whigham explained the Islands Library, located less than three miles away, would remain open and would serve the Thunderbolt community.
“How many kids gonna walk to Whitemarsh Island over the Thunderbolt Bridge and down Highway 80 to the library,” Welch asked. “What did he say,” News Three’s Meredith Stutz asked.
“He said he didn’t think anybody would,” Welch replied.
Welch said Live Oak offered to use his donation to help fund a library services like a bookmobile.
“There’s a big difference between a bookmobile and a library. Come on, really,” Welch said.
Welch said he would be interested in donating to fund an independent Thunderbolt library if needed but said he hopes Live Oak reconsiders its action.
Live Oak would not comment to WSAV on Welch’s conversation with Whigham only stating the board stands behinds its decision.