Canada’s First Climate Ready School Ground


Evergreen marked the completion of its Climate Ready Schools Pilot at a Milton, ON, public school on October 6, 2022, as part of a school- and community-wide celebration. The first-of-its-kind in Canada, the Climate Ready Schools project has transformed the school ground at Irma Coulson Public School into a healthy environment that helps nurture child development through outdoor play and learning and mitigates the effects of a changing climate. A partnership between Evergreen and the Halton District School Board (HDSB), the pilot sets a new standard of how school boards across Canada can extend the use of school grounds beyond school hours and into the surrounding community.

“School grounds provide a sense of place that builds pride, ownership, and a sense of belonging in public space for children and the community by encouraging participation, stewardship, and a deep connection to the natural world,” says Lois Lindsay, Chief Program Officer at Evergreen “The Climate Ready Schools program is the next step in our over 30-year legacy of transforming school grounds across the country, showcasing how schools and community spaces can play a pivotal role in adapting to climate change.”

“This is a truly exciting partnership between the Halton District School Board and Evergreen, and draws on the expertise of many professionals from around the world and the generosity of several donors,” says Ian Gaudet, Superintendent of Facility Services, Halton District School Board. “This project delivers many concepts into a stimulating and revitalized school ground that supports the HDSB’s student-led climate declaration designed to address mitigation measures of climate change. The layout and structure of this Climate Ready School site offer so many opportunities for students’ cognitive, physical, emotional, and social development.”

Launched in 2020, Evergreen’s Climate Ready Schools program brings best practices from around the world and combines them with the lessons and relationships built through its transformation of over 6,000 Canadian school grounds. Canada’s school grounds represent hundreds of thousands of acres of land. Many are covered by asphalt and concrete, contributing to the urban heat island effect and becoming hotspots for flooding during heavy rain. Partnering with HDSB, the Irma Coulson Public School pilot set out to transform the entire 4.5-hectare school ground, home to over 1,000 kindergarten to grade 8 students, from a wind-swept school ground comprising compacted soils, seasonal flooding, persistent muddy conditions, dying trees, little shade, and dusty, hot conditions in summer due to expansive areas of asphalt, into an outdoor climate-resilient learning hub.

For this project, Evergreen worked with Berlin-based landscape architect Birgit Teichmann, integrating the Sponge School Ground Strategy, which removes impermeable surfaces and replaces them with extensive vegetation, allowing the site to act as a giant sponge. This design helps ensure the school ground can absorb 100% of the rainfall, mitigating flood risks while moderating temperatures and providing shade.

From the start, a participatory design process brought together teachers, students, parents, neighbours, and school board administrators to build a vision for the school grounds. Design workshops and site visioning sessions with students helped reveal children’s perceptions and priorities, such as shade, seating, and more places to climb. The community engagement plan also included meetings, conversations, and surveys with school staff, parents, and school community members, which indicated a desire for more nature; trees for shade; seating; pathways; and places to climb, dig, socialize, and play with sand and water. Students from the Irma Coulson Garden Club, teachers, and parent volunteers helped plant shrubs around the Outdoor Classroom. Professional development was 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.

Highlights of the Climate Ready School Ground include:

• Landscaping and plantings that mitigate heat, absorb water, and increase biodiversity; topography to add height and help to buffer strong winds

• Accessible pathways that provide essential circulation and a sense of movement through the space

• Water and sand play to ignite opportunities for imaginary play and build social skills, specifically sharing and cooperating

• A large parkour, accessible hill slide, and crawl tunnel to provide a multi-use play environment inviting children to test their bodies, improve their physical strength, and gain confidence in their abilities to climb, jump, and manage risk

• An outdoor classroom to be used as a gathering space for students and the community

• Areas for various age groups that provide a variety of play-learning opportunities to meet children’s developmental needs

• A Welcome Plaza for parents and families to meet, socialize, and linger before and after school; an additional entrance welcomes the community to use the school grounds outside school hours

The Irma Coulson School Pilot is a partnership between Evergreen and the Halton District School Board. The pilot is generously funded by the Balsam Foundation, Intact Financial Corporation, and other key funders, with in-kind support from Arup.


Ethan Rotberg
Ethan Rotberg is a Communications Content Specialist at Evergreen. Evergreen, a national not-for-profit association, is dedicated to making Canadian cities livable, green, and prosperous. Evergreen works with community builders across sectors to solve some of the most pressing issues cities face: climate change, housing affordability, and access to nature and public spaces.

This article is featured in Canadian Teacher Magazine’s Winter 2023 issue.

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