Local non-profit looking to breathe new life into old North Augusta property

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NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. (WJBF) — A local non-profit is looking to breathe new life into an old property in North Augusta.

“Giving every child a standing ovation,” that’s what the Punch and Judy Players of North Augusta is trying to do. “To bring access to children who would like to be involved in the performing arts so that they would have a place to come and learn about performing arts from backstage to front stage, to actually participating in a performance,” Elizabeth Jones told NewsChannel 6’s Aiken Bureau Chief Shawn Cabbagestalk.

“Every child deserves that,” Alice Vantrease added.

The organization is working to bring a children’s theater to the old Seven Gables Property. It’s an idea Vantrease came up with after working with a children’s theater in Alabama, targeted to underprivileged kids. “If they wanted to participate, they could have transportation, anything they need, as long as they didn’t sacrifice their grades,” Vantrease recalled.

The city purchased the property in 2016 for the new public safety fire station one — plans changed. Now, the buildings are on the auction block awaiting a new purpose. “Children who are interested in being a part of the performing arts, they don’t have an option other than to go up to Aiken or to go over to Augusta. We need something here locally for our young people,” Jones said.

The small 80 seat theater will be primarily used for practice. The group will also welcome all children, including those who are handicapped, who are able to participate in a production, particularly those with hearing issues.

And it’s not just a children’s theater. NewsChannel 6 told you recently about the push to get a senior center in the City. “So people say, why are you advocating for a senior center? I say, why not?” Jones told Shawn in 2019.” Now, she hopes this location will serve as a senior center, too.

“When you hit a stonewall, sometimes you have to back up and say, okay, what else can we do? What else should we do? And we started looking around,” Jones recalled.

“The senior center can house seniors offering whatever activities they would like in the mornings. In the afternoon, their dreams are connected to the theater,” Vantrease added.

The opportunity will also offer seniors to mentor the younger ones. “It would bring in older adults who have a lot of different skillsets who could interact with those young people, and help them,” Jones said.

“We’ll need people who can help make sets and teach children to do that. Design sets, paint sets, act, et cetera. Your imagination can go wild. There is so much that can be done,” Vantrease added.

The pair envisions the other building on the property renovated as a meeting house. “For group meetings, small concerts, independent films, all sorts of things that North Augusta does not offer anybody at this point,” she said.

The group says that a major fundraising effort is now underway. To give your support, look for The Punch & Judy Players on Facebook.

Meanwhile, The City needs to sell the Flythe and Seven Gables properties because they were purchased with Capital Project Sales Tax III funds with the intention of building the public safety buildings there. The CPST funds are highly specific on how they can be spent. Proceeds from the sale of the properties will be returned to the CPST III account.

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