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Omaha Magazine

A Stunning Safe Haven

Sep 21, 2023 03:48PM ● By Lisa Lukecart

Photo by Bill Sitzmann.

Girls Inc. Facility [10 Images] Click Any Image To Expand
Tracy Brown sighed and admitted she feels “well-tired” after saying goodbye to about 400 girls at summer’s end. The director of operations for the North Omaha headquarters of Girls Inc.  acknowledged the job requires hard work and dedication, but said the rewards remain worth the long hours. 

The Girls Inc. facility near 45th and Maple streets takes a beating from constant use, but Brown and 60 staff members ensure the young ladies that frequent it often keep it looking fresh as the day Morrissey Engineering, architectural firm AO*, Lund-Ross Constructors, and All Makes Office Furniture + Technology collaborated to design the $15 million addition of the Katherine Fletcher Center.

The center’s construction, completed in 2015, won numerous design awards including the 2016 AIA Nebraska Merit Award for Excellence in Detail, the 2017 IES Illumination Awards of Merit for Interior and Exterior Lighting, and the 2017 ACI Nebraska Award of Excellence.

The 55,000-square-foot contemporary architectural design would have been a futuristic dream come true for the original six members of the then-named “Girls Club,” gathered in the basement of Clifton Hills Presbyterian Church back in 1975. After acquiring the traditional brick Clifton Hill School building in 1992, the renamed Girls Inc. still needed to address space and safety. After 20-plus years of planning and collecting donations, a building renovation finally came to fruition, blending the existing 1916 structure while expanding the facility into a modern model. 

The building’s precast concrete exterior façade invites texturization with vertical flutes and white customized panels. Red, the color of the nonprofit’s logo, coordinates perfectly with a symbolic blue, representing the University of Nebraska Medical Center Girls Inc. health clinic in the terra cotta brick pattern. Rain screens heighten the innovative look along with Solarban 70 low-e glass, which reduces the building’s sun-heat intake while allowing daylight to stream inside. 

The glass also helps create a link, a “Girls Hub,” physically connecting the older edifice for the elementary school children and the newer facility for the teenage crew.  

“It’s two separate buildings built in two different eras but allowed to communicate with each other,” explained AO* project architect Keith Herrman. 

The Suzanne Scott Girls Hub, the “heart” of the center, creates a community ‘chill area’ for reading a book, listening to music, or watching television. White acoustic foam sticks, which help keep voices from echoing in the cavernous space, dangle from fine wires and move faintly with a breeze. The decorative, functional elements have became an inside joke with the girls, who say they resemble feminine protection. Some visitors sit on the “little butt circles,” as Brown calls the red stools, while others lay on floor mats and hang out next to plants. The glass enclosure allows for great snowy scenes in winter and relaxing rainy-day views. But no matter the weather, the hub vibrates with positive energy on any given day. 

“The natural life is good for the body, mind, and soul. It makes it a happy light,” Brown said.  

Much of the facility’s construction is centered on health and wellness: a full gymnasium, an indoor track, and a fitness center. A state-of-the-art kitchen focuses on healthy cooking and nutrition instruction. The UNMC health clinic provides reproductive screenings, sports physicals, and vaccinations, among other services.

A see-through metal screen on the stairway shows a list of donors, from heavy hitters to smaller patrons. The second-floor lounge fritted glass system is etched with a reminder for all visiting young women to be “strong, smart, and bold.” The saying is repeated in small letters over and over in the “Girls Inc.” logo, casting a pretty play of light and shadow. 

No one encompasses this slogan more than the center’s namesake, Katherine Fletcher, who represents hope when walking through the doors. The educator, and first Black principal for Omaha Public Schools, shows struggling teenagers a courageous, resilient, and benevolent example of womanhood. Poverty, single-parent homes, and foster care remain a reality for many girls entering the Girls Inc. program, which reached capacity this summer. 

These days, Brown and her team are in the thick of fall programming, which serves 200 girls. “This is our safe space. It’s a beautiful place. It makes me feel so proud,” she said.

Visit for more information.

This article originally appeared in the October/November 2023 issue of B2B Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.  
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