By Kerry Brophy
Reprinted from The Leader, Fall 2001, Vol. 17, No. 1
NOLS, an organization that operates primarily outside under the shelter of tents or the open sky, can now add the construction of a major facility to its achievements in wilderness education. The school strengthened its mission to establish solid roots in Lander, Wyo. on Friday, October 12, 2001 when NOLS Executive Director John Gans and Trustee Peter Roy cut the ribbon on NOLS' new international headquarters building. On time, on budget and under one roof, NOLS ushers in an exciting time of growth and change with the 50,000 sq. ft. building made to accommodate over 100 current NOLS staff and continued growth through the year 2012.
While the building's a functional step towards consolidating in-town employees from three facilities into one building and providing a base to welcome students and alumni, it's a symbolic move as well. "I tout the functional aspects of this building," says Executive Director John Gans, "but it's also important to recognize the many things it symbolizes for NOLS and its development."
Gans highlighted the values and milestones the building represents, including the school's confidence in building for future growth and a strong belief in the ongoing value of a NOLS education. The NOLS curriculum, says Gans, is more relevant today than ever. And just like a NOLS course, where teamwork and common goals are essential, the building's open work spaces and many conferencing spaces means that what makes NOLS strong in the wilderness can transfer to its administrative goals.
The green, environmentally friendly approach to the construction of the new building also shows a commitment to the environment and the Leave No Trace ethics students learn on courses. NOLS not only has a history with the wilderness, especially the Wind River Mountains that loom in the backdrop of the facility, but also with the community of Lander. The building, according to Gans, is built to last and demonstrates that public lands and the NOLS classroom are an asset to the West's local economies.
Finally, the building symbolizes that NOLS is a life-long relationship, no matter where students live or where in the world they took a course. The alumni lounge located at the entrance of the building strongly states that NOLS isn't just a month-long experience, but rather a life-long relationship. "The fact that donations will pay for most of this building," Gans concluded, "demonstrates the power and value of a NOLS education, the loyalty of our alumni, parents and friends and the hard work of our many volunteers. In conclusion, I love what this building symbolizes."
The crowd gathered in downtown Lander for the ceremony also heard from Peter Roy, NOLS trustee, Abby Warner, long-time NOLS instructor, and local businessman Mick Wolfe. Warner, who also works as assistant director of NOLS Yukon, is particularly excited about the new headquarters building. "Now," she said, "when I call from the Yukon, or when NOLS Patagonia Assitant Director Atila Rego-Monteiro calls from the Southern tip of Chile, we'll be able to contact one location." She emphasized that the new building also brings everyone together as one team to ensure students have an excellent course experience.
While the new building is an enormous step for NOLS as it moves into the future, this ribbon cutting is just the beginning in what NOLS calls its international base camp initiative, a multi-million dollar campaign to renovate the historic Noble hotel and turn the adjacent Kennedy Building into classroom and library space.
In the meantime, this very outdoor school looks forward to bringing its mission to be the leading source of outdoor skills and education into a more functional indoor setting. "I first came to NOLS as a student and like most of us who work for the school, I spent a lot of time carrying a pack around the mountains," says Gans. "As you spend more time with a pack on your back, you make sure that every ounce you carry is necessary and has a functional purpose."