Editor's note: This story, which appeared in the Dec. 3 print edition of the Columbia Regional Business Report, is being republished to include the project contractor and an updated expected completion date.
By Christina Lee Knauss
A building currently under construction in downtown Columbia is ushering in a new era for Girl Scouts from around South Carolina while honoring a respected civic leader.
The Cathy Novinger Girl Scout Leadership Center at 1101 Williams St. near the Vista, under construction since October, will be run by the Girl Scouts of South Carolina Mountains to Midlands. The organization is based in Greenville and serves about 10,000 Scouts in 22 counties.
The new leadership center is named after Cathy Novinger, a pioneering business woman and community leader in the Midlands who also was a big supporter of the Girl Scouts. The 28,000-square foot center is being built in a renovated building on Williams Street that was previously owned by the S.C. Department of Agriculture.
When construction is completed, Girl Scouts for the first time will have a central place in South Carolina to meet, learn and have fun together, officials said.
The idea for the building emerged from an 18-month study called “She Sees the Future,” conducted after Scout councils in the Midlands and Upstate merged in 2007, said Karen Kelly, vice president for recruitment and marketing for GSSCMM.
Kelly said leaders with the group assessed the properties the Girl Scouts already owned, came up with a strategic plan for the future of the organization and then launched a capital campaign. About $1.8 million has been raised of an estimated $3 million needed for the leadership center.
The new building will offer activities centered around central concepts of the Girl Scout movement: business enterprise; global citizenship; healthy living; the arts; outdoor education; and science, technology, engineering and math activities.
Kelly said similar leadership centers exist in Florida and Texas, but this will be a game changer for Girl Scouts in this state.
“This center is going to be a place where girls can not only make new friends, but they will have access to activities in the state capital that they might not otherwise have a chance to experience,” she said.
The center’s location in Columbia will offer opportunities for girls to visit the S.C. Statehouse, the S.C. State Museum and Riverbanks Zoo and Garden, as well as to take part in outdoor activities on the nearby Congaree River.
Project manager Karen Quinn said the architects came up with the design after extensive meetings with Scouting representatives in Columbia, Spartanburg and Greenville.
The designers talked with Scouts of all ages, as well as volunteers and other workers with the organization, to find out exactly what they wanted the new center to provide. Quinn said the goal is to offer an environment for the girls that is comfortable, inviting and also focused on the pillars of Scouting.
The main entry of the building, which currently centers on Williams Street, will be moved to a corner location. In its place, a 24-foot rock climbing wall will be constructed in the lobby. Quinn said a portion of the existing floor is being cut out to create a two-story atrium to better brace the wall, which is being built by Rock Works out of Massachusetts.
The center includes five, themed bunk rooms for overnight visits. One is centered around STEM skills and includes interactive lighting and music that the girls can program using apps on smart phones or tablets.
The interior includes a 2,500-foot multipurpose room that can be divided into smaller classrooms, as well as a library and conference room. There also will be an art lab and a STEM lab that will feature computers, robotics kits and engineering and construction kits.
The building’s design also embraces the history of the Girl Scout movement, including decor in traditional Girl Scout colors and a history display featuring milestones in local, regional and national Scouting. The center will also include a retail shop that will feature Girl Scout-themed apparel and other gear.
“It’s been inspiring to work with the Girl Scouts on this project because they truly believe in so much of what they’re doing,” Quinn said. “They are focused on giving back to the girls and planning for tomorrow, and as a female architect myself, I see a lot of value in what they are trying to do for the girls.”
Cathy Novinger, who died in November 2016 after a long battle with ovarian cancer, is known as a woman who broke the proverbial glass ceiling in Columbia through her achievements in business and civic life. She started as a file clerk at SCANA and retired in 1999 as the corporation’s senior vice president for administration, government and public affairs.
Novinger also was CEO of the Palmetto Agribusiness Council for 16 years and founded her own consulting company. She was devoted to many community causes, including higher education, health care and services for the homeless, and was a dedicated supporter of the Girl Scouts.
The Cathy Novinger Girl Scout Leadership Center is expected to open by next summer.
A kickoff event for the center’s construction in October drew Girl Scout and area leaders. Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin said the center will be an important new addition to the lives of girls in the Columbia area. Benjamin said his wife, mother-in-law and daughters are involved in Girl Scouts.
“I am so glad you are making this investment in Columbia,” Benjamin said. “You are helping us to build a great state and a better world by investing in our girls. This center is going to be a game changer for the Girl Scouts and for girls in the Midlands.”