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U. teams up with Girl Scouts to build energy-efficient cabins

Published: Wednesday, July 30 2014 8:45 p.m. MDT

Kassandra Nikols, 8, explores the new cabins during a ribbon-cutting ceremony for new cabins at the Camp Trefoil Ranch Girl Scout camp Wednesday, July 30, 2014. The cabins were designed by students at the University of Utah College of Architecture.

Michelle Tessier, Deseret News

PROVO — Trefoil Ranch is now home to three contemporary cabins that 17-year-old camper Callie Privett said transformed the camp from rustic to glam.

"It makes it easier, pretty much," Privett said. "You don’t have to worry so much about things getting into your tent, like one year I had a squirrel attack my bag. That was fun."

In January 2013, the University of Utah's School of Architecture teamed up with the Girl Scouts of Utah to create energy-efficient cabins and teach young girls the basic principles of architecture.

About 120 Girl Scouts, undergraduate students and professional architects came together over the course of the project to plan, design and build cabins on what was once a couple of tent platforms.

The cost to build the three cabins was $150,000. They were made primarily out of beetle-killed pinewood, provided by Euclid Timber Frames. That lowered the cabins' carbon footprint and put rotten wood to good use.

As wood grows, it absorbs carbon and releases oxygen, however if you let it die, it releases all the carbon it once absorbed back into the atmosphere, said Kip Apostol, president of Euclid Timber Frames.

"If you use the wood, it stores the carbon forever and makes it sustainable. Building one structure like this would be the same as not driving a car for two or three years," Apostol said.

The Girl Scouts were able to help in the design process and see what kind of difference the cabins would make on the environment.

"The Scouts are at the forefront of utilizing this very innovative structural system, developed by Euclid Timber and demonstrating to a much broader audience the ability for good design to also incorporate really strong sustainable principles," said Erin Carraher, assistant professor at the University of Utah's School of Architecture.

Carraher said there was a constant amount of synergy surrounding the project as she got the chance to get outside of the classroom and see her students teach the Scouts.

"I think it is a real model for how you can take advantage of people’s unique abilities and strengths, and when you find the right need and the right people to meet it, it can really have an exponentially big impact," Carraher said.

The university does about one project of this size and scale every two years, said Jorg Rugemer, associate professor for the School of Architecture at the U.

"We learned a lot," Rugemer said. "This was new for us, too, the way this was built and everything. That’s a real asset. Instead of doing purely academic work, this is really important to gain the knowledge to be inventive and come up with new ideas."

Privett, who said she has been a Girls Scout for her entire life, was surprised at the amount of work that goes into architectural design.

"It takes a lot to do this," she said. "It's not just like color a little picture and put it up. It’s a lot of work."

Megan Lundberg, 15, of West Jordan, also worked on the project from the beginning. For her, the new cabins symbolize a future in architecture.

"It gave me a good perspective of architecture," she said, "and I now want to be an architect when I am older."

That's exactly the type of response Lisa Hardin-Reynolds, senior vice president of programs for the Girls Scouts of Utah, said she was hoping for from her campers.

"I am so happy that our girls got this experience, that they got exposure to careers that they could one day be in the field of architecture," Hardin-Reynolds said.

"We can help girls have incredible futures from a leadership perspective or from a 'you can do whatever you want' perspective. We are just happy to help them," she said.

The cabins were built on about 1 acre, with a common area and fire pit at the center. Though they are definitely glamorous, the regionally routed design of the cabins still allows for a rustic, outdoorsy sense of place for the 30 girls who can stay in them.

Hardin-Reynolds said she was very pleased with how much the Scouts were able to help with the project. She said the Girl Scouts of Utah and its partnership with the U. will be a long-lasting team that will hopefully set an example for other Girl Scouts across the country.

"These girls built something that’s going to be there in 30 and 50 years, and they can go back and share that with their friends and their family," Hardin-Reynolds said. "They were vital in the success of this project happening. They drove the project."

Email: mcollette@deseretnews.com, Twitter: MirandaCollette

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