Celebrate the ground-breaking transformation of Irma Coulson Public School in Milton, Ontario.
What is a climate ready school?
A climate ready school is when the school grounds have been designed in collaboration with landscape design experts and other partners to better serve the unique and evolving needs of the students, community and the local ecosystem. That means transforming the traditional concrete school grounds, patchy grass fields, and old swing sets into a multi-use, natural outdoor play and learning environment that also promotes health and resilience in the face of a changing climate.
Even the students are involved in what we design! In fact, they tell us how to make their school grounds fun, which in turn gives them a deeper sense of belonging at school when they see their ideas implemented in the final transformation. It truly is a climate ready school for the community and by the community.
Why focus on Canadian school grounds?
Public schools are vital to the learning, development, and growth of not just our children but of our communities at large. They are one of the few truly democratic places where people of all backgrounds and abilities come together.
They also take up so much space! In Canada’s cities today, schools are among the top three landowners, with over 4,000 acres owned by school boards in Toronto alone. With so much space for children to enjoy, now is the time to transform it into places where children can play and explore together and connect with nature in their everyday environment.
Irma Coulson Public School: The Pilot
The Irma Coulson Public School in Milton, Ontario, became Canada’s first ever Climate Ready School in 2022. We worked with the Halton District School Board to transform their school grounds into a regenerative place where children can learn, develop, and grow in their community while nature restores and renews the land around it.
In collaboration with Berlin-based landscape architect Birgit Teichmann, along with local Canadian landscape architects, the ICPS Pilot integrates lessons from Berlin’s Sponge Schools project, designed to ensure that school grounds can absorb 100% of rainfall on the school site while mitigating flood risk in their neighbourhoods.
Irma Coulson’s school grounds faced challenges common to many Canadian school grounds. Our goals included:
The Irma Coulson school ground was a flat, barren expanse that afforded limited play opportunities, a lack of shade and shelter; significant traffic noise, and very few features that supported outdoor learning.
Heavy soil compaction led to seasonal ponding, rendering portions of the site unusable, while the few existing trees were in a poor state of health. Evergreen was keen to explore the school grounds’ potential to support enhanced ecological functions and services to mitigate the effects of a changing climate.
Evergreen’s design approach invited and embraced input from the school community, including the students. The gathering of information from parents and students directly influenced the design of the project.
The school ground design at Irma Coulson Public School in Halton Region has set new standards in stormwater management, topography, vegetated landscapes, material usage, retainment, seating and outdoor learning.
“It’s an equity issue. Not every child has access to resources that ensure experiences in nature. Therefore, school programs that have built in opportunities for interaction with nature are important to support environmental literacy.” – Irma Coulson, Principal
Health and Well-being
“When there’s nothing to do, children are going to get in trouble. We just don’t really have the same behavioural issues in the Climate Ready space because there’s so much choice.” – Ben Harrison, teacher
With the first ever Climate Ready School open, Evergreen continues the important evaluation work, including assessing the school ground’s climate change mitigating impact and the ways in which the students and community benefit from the site.
We’re also co-creating a care plan to help the school board and the greater community establish future stewardship opportunities for the site.
Are you interested in supporting the Climate Ready Schools program? Are you representing a school board interested in your own Climate Ready Schools journey? Please send your inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to hear from you.
“Creating an environment for play that is integrated into nature is significant in building students’ awareness of the potential of nature and, in doing so, increasing their stewardship of the natural world. So much education has gone into helping students understand the impact of climate change. However, they often do not feel that they can be actively involved in contributing to reversing the negative effects of climate change. This project will become part of our natural environment and will be an open classroom for climate readiness education for our students.”
Transforming public spaces like school grounds is a vital step in stewarding the land so that our children and generations to come can live healthy, vibrant lives.
The Climate Ready Schools program has been generously funded by the Balsam Foundation, Enact Financial Corporation, the LCBO’s Spirit of Sustainability campaign, and other key funders, with in-kind support from Arup.
Our team relied on the passion, expertise, and dedication of:
• Irma Coulson Public School
• Halton District School Board
• Hawkins Construction Ltd
• Grace Kells Consulting (Risk Management)
• Teichmann Landscape Architecture
• Trophic Design Landscape Architecture
• Duncan and Grove