By Amanda Harvey
In June 2015, construction began on what would become The Bob & Renee Parsons Leadership Center for Girls and Women at Camp South Mountain. The $18 million project is now complete, and the results are breathtaking. Fifteen new cabins sleeping 10 girls each, three activity centers, a 500-person capacity leadership center, full kitchen and garden amenities, a restored aquatic center and outdoor amphitheater, archery, fire pit and more await the Girl Scouts’ arrival for the first camp programs this summer.
The nearly 70-year-old campsite first began with a five-acre gift from the Heard family. It has since grown to 14.5 acres with new land acquisitions. “The land wasn’t being used to its capacity,” said Jessica Lyon, Senior Manager, Campaign for Girls, Arizona Cactus-Pine Council. “We wanted to create a space to allow more girls to experience camping and to serve the local community.”
“Every part of the camp is about building sustainably in the desert and showing how we can do that.” – Marlene Imirzian
Marlene Imirzian – founder of Marlene Imirzian and Associates Architects, one of the top 50 firms in the country for sustainability – was the lead architect on the project. Being a former Girl Scout herself, she had a passion to bring this idea to life for future generations of Girl Scouts. When you approach The Bob & Renee Parsons Leadership Center for Girls and Women at Camp South Mountain, you are greeted with a green metal accent on the front of the building. “The Girl Scout sash was a big impact when I was a Girl Scout,” said Imirzian. “If you’re a Girl Scout, you’ll get it, and the sash is your entry to the building.”
Sustainability and the idea of building in the desert without harming the natural environment was a large part of the project. “Every part of the camp is about building sustainably in the desert and showing how we can do that,” said Imirzian. All cabins and the conjoined walkway that connects the camp are on raised surfaces, so the wildlife and ground underneath are not affected. The cabins roofs are also sloped to allow for passive rainwater collection. “The water comes down from the roof and feeds the desert. The water also becomes a sculptural feature, and it shows how much water is being collected. It’s a big lesson for the girls,” continued Imirzian.
The decks and outer walls of the cabins are made from the same 80-percent recycled material. This project is the first to use the material to create walls. It’s almost indestructible; the intent was to build something that never had to be maintained or replaced, said Imirzian. The walkways are also designed to be informal meeting spaces for the girls and a way for them to experience the desert without damaging it or being exposed to unwelcome critters. The camp is also completely ADA accessible, with no special paths or ramps. “Everything is [built around] sloped walks. No one has to take an alternate path,” said Imirzian.
Every occupied space is designed with expertly
placed skylights and windows so that lights do not need to be turned on during the day. The project is also pursuing LEED certification.
“It’s been such a privilege to think about a new way to build in the desert,” said Imirzian. “It’s very exciting.” She added that the sustainability features are not only practical but can also be used as teaching tools to explain to the girls how and why the designs benefit their surroundings.
Beginning this summer, 13 day camps, 14 hybrid programs and 14 full programs (where girls stay 4-6 nights) will be offered. Throughout the year, community groups and troops from all over can use the cabins or tent space, and leadership and skill-building training will be offered for adults. The Arizona Cactus-Pine Council has been serving girls since 1936. Today they serve 22,000 girls in grades K-12 with the help of 10,000 adult volunteers.
Photos by Veronica Wierer.
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