Girl Scout councils love to launch exciting, new program experiences for girls, and Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana (GSGCNWI) is certainly no exception.
Recently, we celebrated the grand opening of our new high adventure climbing tower, zipline and high ropes course at Camp Butternut Springs, thanks to the generosity of philanthropist and adventurer Al Hanna. Seeing girls fly overhead, laughing and screaming with delight as they zoom by, is one of the best parts of what we do to fulfill our mission.
It’s the kind of experience we want more girls to encounter at our properties, especially our camps. But to bring to life the type of activities and amenities girls and volunteers tell us they want, we also must make difficult decisions.
It has been eight years since GSGCNWI announced the first phase of our initial Master Property Plan. It is now time to evaluate where we are today, and where we want to be in the future.
The objectives of Phase II of the Master Property Plan are to:
- keep our focus on the evolving needs of girls;
- thoughtfully and thoroughly align to our 3-year strategic plan;
- acknowledge the council’s healthy financial position today, and keep our limited resources focused on the future;
- reflect our readiness to invest in enhanced experiences for future generations;
- transparently engage stakeholders in next steps and solutions;
- reduce our need to divert dollars to deferred maintenance issues;
- and shift to leased office solutions to keep focus on mission, not repairs.
Our focus on creating a master property plan began years ago, when we inherited a large portfolio of properties in 2008 after merging seven previously independent Girl Scout councils into one. We knew at the time that caring for more than 20 different camp and office properties would be too heavy a financial burden for us.
In 2011, with the help of a committee of volunteers and property experts over the course of two years of research, we made the difficult decision to retire and sell several properties. At the time, our overall economy was struggling and so were most nonprofits, including GSGCNWI. We simply did not have the resources to make any investments in property repairs or amenities between 2010 – 2015.
Then, between 2016 and 2019, we started to invest again. Using a combination of our operational budget and money we received from the sale of the properties, we have been able to put approximately $7 million into new or improved amenities at several of our properties.
Yet even with those improvements, we are still faced with a daunting deferred maintenance issue, with needed repairs and updates exceeding $30 million. Too many of our properties, some used far less than others, need significant attention just to be operational and safe.
After much consideration, and again with the guidance of girls, volunteers, and many others, we have decided to concentrate our resources on building enhanced experiences for girls at four primary camp properties that cover the full footprint of our council: Camp Juniper Knoll (Wisconsin), Camp Greene Wood and Camp Palos (both in Illinois), and Camp Butternut Springs (Indiana).
That means we will list for sale three camp/program properties (Pokanoka, River Trails, and Friendship Center). These properties have significant deferred maintenance issues and are not fully utilized by girls and families for myriad reasons.
We’ll also list two very tired, maintenance-heavy gathering places for sale (Homewood and Merrillville), and look for leased space that will represent those communities instead of owning property. And finally, we will review options for our Chicago space at 20 S. Clark since that lease expires in 2021.
Please note: Each property will continue to be open and in use until the property is sold. This may be a lengthy process, so programs will continue to be scheduled as long as maintenance issues do not prevent activities from taking place.
Visit our website for more information about our master property plan, and to stay informed about future announcements.
Please send any questions and comments related to our properties to firstname.lastname@example.org.