In the Fall of 2021 Evergreen approached Arup to collaborate on their Climate Ready Schools program which builds on their 25-year legacy of transforming schoolgrounds across the country into vibrant nature-rich areas for outdoor play and learning.

The Climate Ready Schools project aims to promote sustainable improvements to school grounds that increase their resilience to climate change while also improving access to natural environments in urban centres. Enabling schools and school boards to adapt to the changing climate supports Arup’s ambitions to shape the built environment into a more green, healthy, sustainable, and resilient place for communities. 

Construction on a pilot project in partnership with the Halton District School Board began in October 2021 at Irma Coulson Public School (ICPS) which is a collaboration with Berlin-based landscape architect Birgit Teichmann, Canadian landscape architect Gina Brouwer, and Hawkins Contracting Services Ltd. The schoolgrounds will be transformed into a climate resilient outdoor learning area, designed to connect students and the wider community with the natural environment. 

Climate resilience

Arup led an analysis of the microclimate at ICPS. The analysis reinforces the plans to utilise windbreak plants and earth mounds to minimize the impact of strong prevailing winds. The goal was to help create an environment that is more welcoming and usable for a greater portion of the year which is a key consideration in Canada’s varied climate. Arup also identified key ways in which microclimate analysis can be integrated into classroom activities, providing unique experiences for nature-based learning. Careful consideration was given to the local ecology; Arup created a functional value matrix highlighting how specific ecological decisions could be made to improve aspects of biodiversity, climate, and social well-being.

One of the aims of this project is to improve school grounds through the design of better stormwater management systems which will allow the school and surrounding communities to be more resilient in the face of a quickly changing climate. The Irma Coulson Public School Pilot will integrate principles from Berlin’s Sponge School theory which aims to design schoolgrounds that can absorb large amounts of rainfall. Arup’s methodology helped provide valuable insight into additional ways of addressing and monitoring stormwater management systems. 

Nature-based learning

Creating an accessible and engaging outdoor environment was a strong goal for both Arup and Evergreen. Arup proposed incorporating a weather station into the schoolgrounds at ICPS to act both as a tool to monitor post-construction microclimate changes as well as to provide a user-friendly opportunity for students and teachers to engage in climate data collection and analysis. Arup also developed a concept design of an insect hotel that could be incorporated into the landscape design. The insect hotel can be used on future projects and supports Evergreen in creating a more ecologically rich and diverse environment while also providing students with unique design and nature-based learning opportunities. 

Participatory design

One of Evergreen’s key goals for this project was to create spaces that inspire strong connections between communities and the natural environment. For the ICPS Pilot this was achieved by having a unique participatory design, consultation, and post-construction monitoring process. Students got the opportunity to influence the design by being engaged in child-friendly design activities. Parents, teachers, and the wider community were also involved in the planning process and were able to attend workshops and site visits. Arup hopes to build on this strong connection to the community by involving them in post-construction monitoring and evaluation. This will provide unique insights into behavioural mapping and the different ways in which students and the community interact with the new environment. It will also produce valuable data that can further highlight the value of nature-based designs in schoolgrounds.

Arup has brought a depth of knowledge and experience that has challenged us to think more broadly about the multiple benefits that this and future projects can have on children, the environment and the surrounding community.

Heidi Campbell

Sr. Program Manager, Evergreen

Next chapter

Both Arup and Evergreen are excited to build on the successes and lessons learned in the ICPS Pilot project. Evergreen intends to expand its Climate Ready Schools program across the country and Arup plans to continue to support Evergreen in this process. This program is unique in its ability to reach many diverse communities and create spaces that bring people together in nature while also playing a major role in helping cities adapt to climate change.