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Can the Girl Scout cabin be saved?Posted Thursday, December 1, 2011, at 10:21 AM
The Girl Scout cabin at Indian Foothills Park is in some danger of being lost, as Marshall Democrat-News staff writer Sarah Reed reported yesterday.
It might be tempting at first glance to assign "good guy" and "bad guy" labels for those involved in the use and care of the cabin, but I hope everyone resists jumping to those kinds of conclusions. This is an interesting case of how historic buildings become endangered and how intangible values like love and nostalgia sometimes compete with tangible concerns like liability and maintenance costs.
The park staff's perspective is understandable. The structure has become more liability than asset to the department.
Park programs have little or no access to the cabin, but the department often has to pitch in labor and money to help maintain it. Parks Director Jeff Stubblefield worries about liability problems, and that's his job as a responsible property manager on behalf of the citizens of Marshall.
The Girl Scouts perspective is understandable, too. The organization was promised originally and over the years by city officials that it would always have use of the cabin. Scouts and their leaders feel a good deal of ownership, even though they don't technically own the building.
They have made the cabin a home, and they love it. Scouts for generations have learned lessons, made friends and had fun within its walls.
If sentiment was the only factor, I imagine the cabin would be in no danger at all, but financial considerations complicate things.
The building has been deemed unsafe, but it appears mainly to be out of compliance with current safety regulations. The structure itself is sound, according to one inspector and one local contractor who is familiar with the building.
The cabin was designed long before ADA was created and before current safety regulations were enacted. It may be technically unsafe, but it still works.
The real dilemma appears to be the relationship between use and regulation.
The Girl Scouts may be reluctant to share the cabin in any case, but leaders say they also worry that by opening up the building to public use, American Disabilities Act requirements would be enforced. And expensive.
The Parks Department, to justify the costs of maintaining the building, would like to be able to use it for public events and activities.
So the question is whether the two groups with a stake in the cabin can arrive at an agreement that would satisfy both, more or less, and can keep the building going at an acceptable cost.
"Acceptable" is an imprecise term, of course, and is open to interpretation.
The cabin does not currently have an official historic designation, but it might qualify as a building of local historic significance, in any case. Saving it will require some commitment, some ingenuity and some compromise.
Historic buildings present great challenges, but if those challenges can be met, they can also offer great rewards.
Editor's note: The author is a member of the newly reconstituted Saline County Historic Preservation Commission, but the views expressed above are his. He is not representing the commission on this issue.
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Eric Crump is a former editor of The Marshall Democrat-News. He lives elsewhere now but still loves Marshall and Saline County. He's trying to catch up on all the stories he should have written while he was on staff.
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