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How Climate-Ready Design is Transforming Canadian School Grounds

Evergreen's Climate Ready Schools first-of-its-kind pilot project take root in Milton, ON

Children playing in an outdoor school ground

Published on March 16, 2021

By Heidi Campbell, Senior Program Manager at Evergreen

Be it the pandemic or the climate crisis, communities are experiencing transformative change across Canada. 

Parks, streetscapes, and public spaces are being reimagined. Their power to connect us to each other and nature is being woven into a new narrative for healthy cities. 

Where better to start reimagining our neighbourhoods than on local school grounds? In these unprecedented times, Evergreen’s Climate Ready Schools pilot project has taken root at Irma Coulson P.S., part of Halton District School Board in Milton, Ontario.

Climate Ready Schools is Evergreen’s next chapter in 25 years of greening Canadian school grounds. In February 2021, the preliminary master plan was approved by the School Board and school community, proving that climate-ready innovations can change perceptions about how to design Canadian school grounds. 

The preliminary master plan

Image of the preliminary concept design (Irma Coulson Climate Ready School Master Plan - Landscape Architect: Birgit Teichmann GmbH in Cooperation with Evergreen and NewLeaf).

The proposed revitalized plan for the school grounds features climate mitigation measures, ecological services, accessible community green space, and healthy environments for play and learning. 

You can learn more about the concept design by watching the video below.

Designing the Pilot

The project has evolved to include a complex layering of components. A participatory design process that brings together key stakeholders – teachers, students, parents, neighbours, and school board administrators – is being used to build a vision for the school grounds. 

Professional development is being provided for teachers to build their capacity to facilitate child-friendly approaches to designing and planning the school grounds, and to increase their confidence to teach outdoors. 

The project also includes a rigorous evaluation strategy. A triple-bottom line analysis will help guide design decisions through the lens of economics, social impact, and the environment. A multi-pronged approach will also be taken to map children’s behavioural changes in response to the new landscape, which will make visible the powerful link between the landscape and child development. 

New landscape standards, guidelines for the Board are being proposed, and curriculum-connected resources for teachers will also be developed.

Engaging the Community

We heard from students, school staff, parents, and community members, and integrated their feedback and vision for the site into the conceptual design.   

Focusing on children’s voices, the community engagement plan included design workshops and site visioning sessions with students, meetings and surveys with school staff, and surveys and conversations with parents and school community members.

A student's drawing of the schoolground

Drawing - Window of Dreams by Irma Coulson Grade 6 student

After sharing the preliminary concept design, we revisited the same engagement tools to collect feedback on the design. Our integrated engagement approach developed positive relationships, built trust with the members of the school community, and provided context for us to engage the community on the conceptual design. 

After our conversations about the concept design idea, we learned students, staff, and parents are very excited about the project, appreciate the focus on climate mitigation, and are looking forward to the benefits the site will bring to the broader community. 

Love the design — such a perfect blend of function, play and sustainability. Thank you for creating such a thoughtful space for our children and community.
Irma Coulson Parent

Areas of the concept design that received support include: the variety of different elements, spaces, and play opportunities on the grounds; the consideration of child development and graduated risk opportunities; the new location for a sports field and addition of ball courts; naturalization, hills, and varied topography; kindergarten area expansion and improvements; seating and shade elements; and improving storm water management.

You can explore the engagement materials by watching renowned landscape architect Birgit Teichmann, who is working on the project with Evergreen, talking to students.

Moving Forward

As we begin the detailed design and costing process, we are excited to bring the ideas of the Irma Coulson community to life.  

The school community has put time, thought, energy, and excitement into this project and we look forward to working with them to implement a Climate-Ready School ground that serves students, staff, parents, and the community. You can learn more by visiting their wesbite.

We hope to begin construction later in 2021.

Learn More Today 

Climate-Ready Schools is led by Evergreen and generously funded by the Balsam Foundation, Intact Financial Corporation and other key supporters.

Want to know more? Visit our project page today.