A scouting headquarters designed by Cuningham Group Architecture, Inc., adds to the active community around historic Fort Snelling at Bdote

By Joel Hoekstra

A convincing case can be made that the most highly trafficked corner in Minnesota is the deep gorge where the Mississippi River and the Minnesota River meet. For thousands of years, Indigenous people plied its waters, more recently followed by French traders and American paddleboats. U.S. soldiers arrived at the site in 1819, with the establishment of Fort Snelling. Today, cars and trains crisscross the area via highways and an LRT line while lines of planes arrive at and depart from the adjacent Minneapolis–St. Paul International Airport.

“History has converged and focused here for thousands of years,” says John Andrews, CEO of the Northern Star Council–Scouts BSA, which recently erected a new headquarters on the site, known to the Dakota people as Bdote.

In 2007, the Northern Star Council, which oversees the administrative operations for dozens of scouting troops in central Minnesota and western Wisconsin, bought a couple of acres at Bdote from the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board. Architects and engineers at LHB immediately transformed an old cavalry building on the property into an activity center complete with a rock-climbing wall and a ropes course, while an open field nearby was designated as the site for a new headquarters building. Cuningham Group Architecture was hired to design the latter facility—thePeter J. King Family Foundation Leadership Center.

Scouting has changed significantly since 1908, when the British Lieutenant General Robert Baden-Powell published Scouting for Boys, a manual aimed at promoting self-reliance and patriotism among adolescent males. Today’s scouts earn badges not only in camping and first aid but also in personal management, communication, and environmental science or sustainability. In recent years, the Boy Scouts of America has reversed its longtime ban on openly gay scouts and gay adult leaders, and earlier this year the organization—newly rebranded as Scouting BSA—opened membership to girls.

“The client requested that the building embody and reflect 21st-century scouting principles,” says Cuningham Group principal Brian Tempas, AIA. “They also wanted the building to be iconic—one you remember after you drive by it.”

Tempas and his team delivered a 41,000-square-foot facility clad in Spanish slate tiles and red cedar that succeeds in catching the eye of drivers approaching the airport on Highway 62. The U-shaped structure hugs a quiet, landscaped courtyard where scouting ceremonies can be held; the courtyard also features a sculpture honoring the Dakota. Liberal use of glass throughout the facility dissolves the border between indoors and outdoors, adding to the sense of limitless adventure that is inherent to scouting.

The industrial interiors—wood, steel, and concrete predominate—include a wide entry lounge, a double-height gathering hall anchored by a giant stone hearth, a special Leadership Experience area, classrooms, a shop that sells uniforms and other scouting materials, offices and a breakroom for the Northern Star Council’s 100-person staff, and a climate-controlled archive space.“Structural steel is left without finish, metal decking is exposed, concrete floors are polished, and HVAC, fire suppression, and electrical systems are in full view to educate the guest—primarily youth—on just how building assembly takes place,” says Cuningham Group principal Chad Clow, AIA.

One wing of the building is set up to host outside events with a separate entrance and conference rooms that can be rented by community groups, nonprofits, and businesses. “Our vision is to serve the entire community—not just scouts,” says Andrews.

Opened in the fall of 2018, the new building has been a hit with scouts and staff alike. As intended, it’s a point of confluence, where people from many places and backgrounds come together. Andrews, a history buff, recently discovered that Bdote was where the first summer camp held by local Boy Scouts got its start; announcements published at the time instructed boys to ride the trolley to Fort Snelling, the group’s departure point. Says Andrews: “It’s nice to be a part of something that’s greater than us.”

Location: St. Paul, Minnesota
Client: Northern Star Council–Scouts BSA
Architect and landscape architect: Cuningham Group Architecture, Inc.
Project team: Brian Tempas, AIA; Chad Clow, AIA; Michael Berg, AIA; Jocy Teske
Energy modeling: Cuningham Group Architecture, Inc.
Construction manager: Mortenson Construction
Size: 41,208 square feet
Cost: $17.5 million
Completion: June 2018
Photographer: Morgan Sheff