Scouts Plead with Village to Reopen the Girl Scout House
- Thursday, 30 June 2022 09:03
- Last Updated: Thursday, 30 June 2022 21:48
- Published: Thursday, 30 June 2022 09:03
- Joanne Wallenstein
- Hits: 1023
Some of the community’s youngest citizens sat patiently at Village Hall on Tuesday night June 28, well after their bedtimes, waiting to address the Mayor and Board of Trustees at the podium. Wearing their uniforms, Brownies and Girl Scouts assembled at the Village Board meeting to plead with the Village to reopen the Betty Taubert Girl Scout House that has been shuttered since March 2020.
Despite the appearance that callous bureaucrats had simply locked the doors to the Scout House on Wayside Lane, the story turned out to be far more complex. Remarks from Scarsdale Mayor Jane Veron, a former scout and troop leader, Village Manager Rob Cole, Helen Wronski, who is serving as the Interim CEO of the Girl Scouts Heart of the Hudson, Scarsdale/Edgemont Service Unit Manager Donna Caro, BK Munguia and a long list of others involved in scouting, revealed the real reason the house is no longer in service.
Though there was no signal to the public that the issue would be addressed, local scouts organized and asked the girls and the leaders to attend and “show the trustees how our troops have been negatively affected because we have not had access to the house since March of 2020. We want them to see the many faces of the girls in SEGS who are depending on them to re-open the house. Our remarks should only be about re-opening the house as soon as possible.”
Someone alerted News 12 of the upcoming meeting, and cameramen were posted inside Rutherford Hall taping the proceedings.
The Mayor was also expecting to see representatives and in her opening remarks she offered her support to the scouts. She said, “We want to underscore, our commitment to our Girl Scouts community. Two weeks ago, I spoke at the Girl Scouts Silver and Gold Award ceremony and shared that the Girl Scouts are very near and dear to my heart. I was once a Brownie and a Girl Scout myself; I was a troop leader in college at a local under-resourced elementary school, and I am the mom of three girls who each participated in the Scarsdale program. I have seen first-hand the formative power of the Girl Scouts."
"We as a board are fervent believers in the catalytic role our Girl Scouts play in solving societal problems. Girl Scouts lead with a deep commitment to community and a roll up your sleeves ethos to tackle challenges to make the world a better place. In a moment, our Village Manager will share the Village’s journey to ensure our essential community asset remains open and accessible for our Girl Scouts as well as for our Seniors and the myriad other community groups who value this central space. We work directly with the Seniors Council, seeking to deliver on their needs. For as long as I’ve been on the Board, the Village has been seeking to address the critically needed upgrades to the space and tonight the Village Board is poised to allocate ARPA funds to repave the driveway. The Girl Scout House plays a vital role in enabling our broader community to convene and gather.”
She then turned the mic over to Village Manager Rob Cole who explained why the Scouts and the Village had come to this impasse. He said, “the Betty Taubert House has deteriorated and the Girl Scouts Heart of the Hudson have not met their financial obligations. The building needs $550,000 of work. The Girl Scouts asked the Village if they were interested in purchasing the building so that it could be repaired and put back in use. But we have received no response to our calls and letters.
With mounting repair costs and the building in disrepair, we sent them a notice of default. The Village intends to return it to use for scouts, seniors, recreation programs and more. Now the Girl Scouts have requested a meeting. We would like to compensate them for the property and expedite the sale so we can restore it to usage.”
However that was not the response the scouts wished to hear.
Helen Wronski, who is the newly installed interim CEO of the Girl Scouts Heart of the Hudson objected, saying “I do not appreciate Mr. Cole’s comments. The first Girl Scout troop in Scarsdale was established in 1917 and the first Girl Scout house was established in 1941. We have been in partnership with the Village for over 80 years. Both houses were built with Girl Scout funds. For a greater part of this 80 years we have had a collaborative and effective partnership in providing a safe and welcoming facility. The Village wants to buy it but we want to maintain it for the use of scouts. I can tell you this will eventually result in the loss of the building for the scouts. We are afraid we will be regulated back instead of forward. The Girl Scouts Heart of Hudson is committed to the house.
Returning to speak later in the meeting Wronski said, “Three days into my appointment here (as interim CEO) I received the default notice. I called Mr. Cole and he refused to talk to me or meet with me. I had to go there myself. We asked you for the numbers but you wouldn’t tell me the numbers. You only said, “I am going to send you a check.” I want to make this right. We were willing to come to the table and we have yet to hear a response. We came and offered to begin to work and were not given any communication back. I found that stunning for a municipality. You would have communication from me.”
Donna Caro of Harvest Drive said, “I have been a scout since 1981. Betty Taubert was my mentor. I ask you to renew our agreement and reopen the house. The Girl Scouts have been a fixture in the community. Right now our existence is threatened as we have nowhere to meet.
The house closed in March 2020 and our leadership has not had an in-person meeting in over two years. We have not recruited since 2020. Our annual fundraising drive has been cancelled. Our award ceremony has been cancelled. We should have been celebrating at the Girl Scout House not at Hitchcock.”
Caro continued, “We need to be accessible to our girls. We do not meet as a whole community anymore. Having younger and older girls meet is essential. Closing the Girl Scout house has affected every aspect of the program. I urge you to continue to partner with GS Heart of the Hudson.”
Former Mayor David Kronlein asked the Village to continue their partnership with the scouts. He remembered fighting the fire that burnt down the first Girl Scout House. He said, “My wife and daughter were very involved in the funding for the reconstruction of the house only 2 years later. I am the husband of a scout and father of three daughters who were scouts, a former mayor and I urge you to renew your agreement with the scouts.”
Stacey Green of Overlook Road said she is the co-leader of a troop of 16 third grade girls. She said, “I have a background in finance. How much is needed for the upgrades?”
Cole responded, “The reason the house is closed is because we need to fix the ventilation to meet post covid rules. We were trying to work with the scouts to get matching funding. That’s why we would be happy to buy it as we can’t continue to fund it. It is our understanding that they don’t have the funds for investment in the property. They haven’t paid since 2015 and the building and grounds are not in good condition. We are willing to buy it and make the upgrades but they don’t get back to us. We are trying to do the right thing here.” He also mentioned that the Village has allocated $70,000 in funds from the American Rescue Plan Act to repair the driveway and parking lot at the Scout House.
BK Munguia of Brookby Road said, “I am here to ask you to reopen the house for scouts and the council. I have a document to show the history of the scouts in Scarsdale since 1917. I have served as the liaison to the Village for the scouts for 17 years. Betty Taubert was committed to the idea of sharing resources. All the stakeholders should be engaged to clear up misunderstandings. Good decisions are never made in haste or anger. There are so many people who are interested in keeping this partnership going.”
Many scouts from Scarsdale and Edgemont came forward explaining why they wanted the Girl Scout House back, for sleepovers, ceremonies, charitable projects, planting and practicing to march in the Memorial Day Parade. One said, “We had to meet on yoga mats in Davis Park. We sat on the sidewalk and painted bird houses and gave them out to people.” Another said, “We learn interesting and exciting things,” and “Girl Scouts has brought our grade together.” Another said, “I love girl scouts and being a girl scout. I really want the house to be open. It teaches me how to interact with my friends and make new friends.”
The Mayor thanked the girls for bringing their local voice to the government. She said, “Remember it and use it – you can make change throughout your entire life. We are passionate about reopening the house. This has been going on since 2015. We want you to have access to the house.”
Following the meeting we asked Village Manager Rob Cole for clarification on a few of the issues and here is what he shared:
(Q) You said the Girl Scout house requires $550,000 in work. What are the short term vs. the long term needs?
(A) The $550K includes such items as a new roof, exterior windows and doors, parking lot paving, kitchen renovation, baseboard radiator repairs/replacement, and others. There are also non-capital needs that require remedy, which are not included in the estimated $550K. We’ll need to work through project prioritization and timing with the Girl Scouts.
(Q) If the ventilation was upgraded, could the house be used?
(A) The most immediate need at the Girl Scout House is addressing the ventilation improvements. An older estimate pegged the cost at $17,347 (50/50 split was the $8,673 mentioned last night). We’ll have to get a new proposal reflecting current pricing, though, and we’re hopefully costs haven’t sharply escalated. That written, and assuming a walkthrough does not reveal additional needs requiring remedy prior to reopening, upgrading the ventilation is the only item I am aware of that would preclude reopening. Any life safety issue identified would need to be remedied prior to reopening, of course.
(Q) How much in arrears are the scouts in their payments to Scarsdale Village?
(A) But for limited work already completed by the Village, which is subject to Girl Scouts 50% reimbursement, capital expenses are paid as projects are undertaken. As a result, the Girl Scouts are not in arrears, as such. Rather, there is an infrastructure repair/renovation backlog of work needing to be completed and an associated funding deficit needing to be addressed.
(Q) What is the agreed upon annual payment?
(A) There is no agreed upon annual payment to fund infrastructure needs. Maintenance, renovation, and repair needs drive the amount of money needed each year. Thus, the Village identifies infrastructure needs and seeks to confirm Scout financial participation at the 50% level. If the Girls Scouts come through with their required contribution, the project moves forward. If they do not, the project is deferred.
(Q) How much was the Village offering the Scouts for the purchase of the house?
(A) No specific price had been offered – that would have been the next step had the Village chosen pursue termination of the agreement.
(Q) Is there any documentation of the Village’s efforts to communicate with the Girl Scouts available to see? On the Village website?
(A) The Village’s efforts to communicate with the Girl Scouts have included a variety of methods, including on-site meetings, written, and phone calls. The process has been time consuming and labor intensive, though we are hopeful their new leadership will work to improve communications, responsiveness, and follow-up, as we all share the same goal of opening the Girl Scout House as soon as possible and maintaining it such that it is a safe, comfortable location for Girl Scouts and other users to visit and enjoy.
I sent the Girl Scouts a default notice on May 31, spoke with Ms. Wronski by phone on 5/31 after she read the letter, and sent her a copy of the March 2022 letter that she requested during our phone conversation (also on 5/31). The next day (6/1), I directed my assistant, Christine, to schedule the requested meeting, which she did for 6/9 (seven business days later, based on mutual availabilities). The meeting was held as scheduled.