The purchase of a building for the Girl Scouts of Eastern Iowa and Western Illinois’ offices also is opening the door to providing a new urban learning experience for Girl Scouts.
The council, headquartered in downtown Rock Island since 1982, plans to relocate its Girl Scout Leadership Center to a building at 940 Golden Valley Drive, Bettendorf, by year’s end. Last spring, the council purchased the vacant building, located behind The Lodge near Interstate 74, and is in the process of converting it into office space for the council’s growing staff and an expanded Girl Scout store.
The Rock Island office, 2011 2nd Ave., will be used to offer new options for the 20,000 girls and scores of volunteers and leaders served by the bi-state council. Plans call for transforming the existing offices into an urban program center.
“This new office is vital because it will give us the opportunity to devote our current space to girls experiencing valuable leadership programming and to troops exploring the Quad-Cities,” said Diane Nelson, the Girl Scouts’ chief executive officer.
She added that the Rock Island building will provide much-needed meeting space for local troops and for volunteer training as well as a place for troops from outside the area to come to spend a few nights and participate in on-site leadership activities while exploring the Quad-Cities. “We and the troops are constantly looking for space to rent,” she said.
Nelson said national representatives from Girl Scouts of the USA previously visited the local council to conduct a property study.
“They said ‘You are such a prime location for an urban program center,’ ” she recalled, adding that she is aware of only two urban program centers in the Midwest — in Chicago and Milwaukee.
While the move was largely prompted by the fact that the council had long outgrown its offices, she said it made sense to find a new use for the building. The Girl Scouts bought the riverfront land for $1 from the city of Rock Island 30 years ago.
“The Girl Scouts will always come first here, but we hope this building gets used constantly,” she said, adding that the agency already has partnerships with other youth organizations, including the Boys & Girls Club and the Martin Luther King Center.
She expects the urban program center to initially serve the Girl Scouts’ growing outreach programs — the scouting programs taught and supported by the council for low-income girls who otherwise might not have a chance to join scouts.
“But we also have a lot of girls who live in rural areas — we cover 31 counties in Iowa and Illinois — and have few opportunities to do programs in ‘the city,’ ” she said.
Nelson said the council wants to develop a variety of packages to meet the different troops’ interests from art to cooking, technology and other activities. In addition to doing some of these activities at the center, the visiting scouts also could tour area attractions and community programs, including the Figge Art Museum, the Rock Island Arsenal and the Putnam Museum.
“We might teach them how to ride a city bus, or get a taxi — things we take for granted because we live in the city,” she said.
The urban center could open as early as next summer and the council plans to involve Girl Scouts in the design and planning. But some of the ideas being pitched include adding a performance stage, an indoor climbing wall, an art room, a technology lab as well as expanding the kitchen facilities to accommodate overnight guests and cooking classes. They also hope to create an eagle-viewing area on the building’s existing observation deck. In addition, many of the existing offices will be converted into sleeping rooms with bunk beds.
“We’re very excited, it’s not just for Girl Scouts,” she added. “If the Boy Scouts or a church group wants to rent the facility, we will let them. We’re hoping it becomes an urban program center for the community as well.”
Nelson credited the move and ultimate expansion to the support and in-kind donations of several community partners, including Mel Foster Co., Russell Construction, Paragon Commercial Interiors and retired Cedar Rapids architect Herb Stone.
The 6,700-square-feet Rock Island facility actually will be the fourth urban program center for the council, but its first standalone center. Other Iowa offices began providing the program this year, but do it as part of their home office operation. They are in Waterloo, Cedar Rapids and West Burlington.
Nelson said the Rock Island building was designed and built as a program center, but as the staff and council grew there was a need for more office space. The council employs 75 people, 25 of whom work out of the Rock Island office.
“The new office will also provide for an expanded shop and space for volunteers taking part in training that will help them help girls grow strong,” she said.