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Girl Scouts to set up camp on West Side

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Today's Girl Scouts have different tastes than their moms and grandmothers, says Susan Thompson, CEO of the Girl Scouts of Black Diamond Council.

Rather than craving an outdoor adventure at, say, Camp Mamie Flynn or Camp Sandy Bend, they'd prefer a trip to the big city, where they can shop at the mall and shower at night.

To meet those needs, the Black Diamond Council plans to build what it calls a Girl Zone, a hotel-like facility with a dozen bunk beds, in a former auto parts store on Charleston's West Side.

The building is next door to the former Charleston Lincoln-Mercury dealership, which the council bought last year to replace its downtown home on Hale Street. Architects from ZMM have drawn up plans, and contractors will break ground as soon as the council can finish raising $6 million.

Thompson showed some visitors through the vacant spaces on Tuesday.

"This building will be our resource center," she said of the classically styled dealership, "with offices for 27 to 28 staff members, plus all kinds of volunteer services and a Girl Scout store."

Scouts will be put up in the shabby-looking structure across the alley to the left.

"That parts building will probably be the first of its kind in the country -- an urban camp," Thompson said.

"It will have two bedrooms, each with six bunk beds, showers, potties and sinks and, of course, outlets for hair dryers. The back of the building will be the great room. There will be two kitchens, so we can have two troops visiting at the same time. We'd like to put a climbing wall in there -- that's not in our funding.

"Behind it is going to be an outdoor education area, with a campfire. We've already received half the funding for the fire circle," Thompson said.

"This will enable us to bring in girls from all over our jurisdiction, take them to the Clay Center, see the Blue Man Group, or to the Capitol and learn about our heritage."

The Black Diamond Council covers most of West Virginia and a few counties in eastern Ohio, western Virginia and Maryland.

"Girls from Ohio won't be interested in our heritage, but we'll take them to Town Center, do some consumer shopping." That's a program aimed at teaching girls about smart shopping, Thompson said. "They shop, but they may not make a good buy. A lot of us don't necessarily know how to buy what we need."

Architect Marie McCauley, engineer Mary Jo Cleland and interior designer Jill Watkins have been working on the project as part of a design/build team with Paramount Builders, said Adam Krason, a principal for ZMM.

"It's a renovation, but it's more accurate to call it a renovation-addition, because we're taking one-third off the front of the building and reconstructing the front portion. They really wanted to change the character of the building to meet their vision."

Construction costs for the 28,500-square-foot project are about $5.3 million, not counting the $1.5 million the council paid for the property, Krason said.

The Black Diamond Council has completed about 20 percent of its $6 million fundraising campaign, Thompson said. It's looking for bank loans as well as private donations.

"We're still looking for a major donor. We believe there are people who want to make this happen.

"If it were my job, I'd start [construction] tomorrow and finish in 10 months. You can't break ground until you raise the money.

"We've been talking about this for eight or 10 years, because we've outgrown our current location. We've had a headquarters task force for four years. We looked at sites all over Charleston. Parking is a major issue for us. As you can see, there's 47 spaces over there [in the former used car lot across Virginia Street] that volunteers can use.

"We sold a couple of camps," Thompson said. "We didn't see the use. Kids said they want a more urban kind of situation, and we want to be part of the situation. We've taken the concept all over. They are just loving it. They want to be the first ones here."

Reach Jim Balow at balow@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5102.


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