In the fight between tradition and modernity, the Boy Scouts of America have lost this round.
For decades, Boy Scout Troop 81 has been an active force in Walton County, producing fine young men, including multiple Eagle Scouts, and boasting alumni such as Monroe’s current state Rep. Bruce Williamson.
And they’ve done it all from the small, cinderblock building off Church Street behind the old school building turned city community center at the terminus of High School Avenue.
“Troop 81 was founded back in 1937,” Scott Schorr, activity director for Troop 81, said. “We’ve met at the Scout Hut since then 1960s, when the community got together and built it for the Scouts.”
At that time, the Scout Hut was owned by the Walton County School District, which operated the Monroe High School on the same property. The Scout Hut was allowed to share the property though an agreement between the Scouts and the school system that gave Troop 81 free access to the building.
Now, however, the Scout Hut seems it will be the Scout Hut no longer.
Last fall, the Monroe Country Day School leased the property for five years as its new campus after outgrowing its old building, the former Johnston Institute which served the old mill village on Broad Street.
At first, school administrator Rita Dickinson, with the support of the MCDS board of directors, allowed Troop 81 to remain, though she did ask the Scouts to spruce up the building’s aging exterior and make it a bit more presentable inside and out.
Now, however, Dickinson said she has no choice but to ask the Scouts to leave.
“I feel bad about it but I see no other solution,” Dickinson said.
It’s not an issue of wanting to exclude the Scouts or evict them for any reason other than pure legal necessity.
It essentially boils down to insurance.
“We cover the insurance on the property, we cover repairs to the property,” Dickinson said. “We’re responsible. I can’t exclude the Scouts from that liability when they’re using the grounds.”
Dickinson said the school’s board of directors did not feel comfortable with covering the liability on Scouting activities on site when the school did not have officials present. The Scouts generally meet on Monday evenings, when the school is closed, and the school had accommodated them in various ways before they felt the liability issues were too much to overcome.
Melinda Quinn, a member of the MCDS board of directors, said it was unfortunate but unavoidable.
“It’s a huge liability issue,” Quinn said. “They don’t have a restroom out there in that Scout Hut. We were leaving the doors open on the school on Scout nights so they use the restrooms in the main building, but that just opens up further liability issues. We just didn’t think there was a future for it.”
Schorr, however, feels the MCDS mismanaged the decision and refused to work with the Scouts for a more equitable outcome.
“Everything seemed to be fine until last year,” Schorr said. “This came out of the blue. They just pulled the rug out from underneath use. They sold us down the river.”
Schorr said the school was happy to work with them at first, and the Scouts agreed to make the repairs and paint the Scout Hut at the school’s request.
“We repainted it, we replaced all the window panes,” Schorr said. “Then they decided to kick us out.”
Dickinson disputes that assertion, saying the MCDS reimbursed Troop 81 for all materials used in the repairs and refurbishment of the Scout Hut, further giving them a check for any additional work they did on the building outside of material costs.
This is not the first time, actually, Troop 81 has faced pressure to leave the Scout Hut. When the school system sold the building to a commercial developer, Schorr admitted they felt pressure to leave.
“The developer wanted us out, too,” Schorr said. “When the city bought it, we thought that was great.”
The developer, unable to secure a deal for the property, never exerted full pressure on Troop 81 to leave, and the Scouts continued to remain there even as the city of Monroe purchased the building with the intention of making it into a community center.
Even under civic management, however, the Scouts faced some criticism for their possibly informal arrangement to use the Scout Hut, with then-Mayor David Dickinson asserting he felt the Scouts should find a new home. No action was taken, however, and the Scouts remained.
It was only after the city — forced to close the community center due to COVID-19 and sinking money into the building, through maintenance and utilities and the like, without any return — chose to lease the building to the MCDS that anything changed.
Schorr felt the lease was all too sudden and took away a valuable civic building to give it to the wife of a council member.
“They just rammed it through,” Schorr said of the vote. “They basically allowed this to happen to steal out hut.”
Records of the vote, however, show that both Councilman David Dickinson, the husband of Rita, and Councilwoman Lee Malcolm, who was on the MCDS board at the time of the vote, recused themselves from all discussion of the matter as well as the final vote.
The vote was approved 3-2 last May.
Schorr said Troop 81 had a formal agreement with the school system to use the Scout Hut — Boy Scout troops are forbidden by organizational rules from owning property, which is why they meet in buildings owned by sponsoring organizations like churches or civic clubs.
Dickinson, however, said she has never been presented with any original paperwork for the Scout Hut. She concludes the agreement was the sort of handshake agreement all too common in small-town affairs back in the 1950s and ’60s, but unfortunately not legally binding today.
Dickinson said the only way the Scouts could stay was if the MCDS was Troop 81’s sponsor.
“They’re not associated with the school,” Dickinson said. “If they were, we could include them in the insurance, but I’m not sure that’s the best answer for anyone.”
Troop 81 was sponsored by the Kiwanis Club of Monroe for decades but recently switched to American Legion Post 64 in Monroe. Dickinson feels it’s a better fit for the Troop as a sponsor than the MCDS would be.
“I think the American Legion is a good choice,” Dickinson said.
Schorr, however, feels the Troop is being cut off from its roots through this eviction.
“It’s a real loss to Troop 81,” Schorr said. “It’s hard to recruit when you don’t have a home.”
Dickinson said she was sorry she couldn’t accommodate the Scouts any longer, but said she felt the Troop could thrive even without the Scout Hut.
“I respect Troop 81 and their history,” she said. “But Troop 81 is not a cinderblock building. They’re a group of boys. We understand people’s feelings about this building, but they can move beyond this.”