Tuscany School

About this project
  • Location: Tuscany, Calgary, AB
  • Scope: Design, Engagement, and Installation
  • Timeline: 2016 to present
  • Project Leaders: Tuscany School Parent Council
  • Project Partners: Tuscany School Administration, Calgary Board of Education

For several years, Tuscany School dealt with significant drainage problems in an area of their schoolyard where large volumes of stormwater caused erosion and continual clogging of a stormwater drain. This created muddy, slippery conditions, and, at times, a pool of water that was several feet deep! The recurring cost of unclogging the stormwater drain was also substantial. The site was enough of a hazard that the CBE grounds department intervened with a chain link fence to prevent students from entering the area around the stormwater drain.


We were tasked with creating a design to mitigate these water issues, but also to transform this problem into an opportunity for enhancing the school grounds. We engaged with Tuscany School’s parent council, administration, and faculty to identify the key goals for the project. They wanted to create a multitude of learning and play opportunities for students and the broader community, beautify the school grounds, and do so in a way that would accommodate the existing traffic flows across the site, be resilient to pressure from wildlife, withstand the significant amount of student foot traffic, and require minimal maintenance over time.


The overall project design is divided into three phases, in order to work within annual budget considerations. The first two phases have been installed and phase three is planned for construction in 2019. The first phase was the catch basin, which addressed the water problem at its core by raising the grade of the stormwater drain and replacing the standard manhole cover with a specialized rain garden overflow drain. The chain link fence was removed and the area was transformed into a rain garden with edible and native shrubs, and a ground cover of sheep’s fescue, wild strawberry, and silverweed. The goal of these plantings was to not only prevent erosion and beautify the space, but also to provide curriculum-tied learning opportunities in a naturalized environment. A network of sandstone boulders provide access into the space, and naturally present an opportunity for creative and active play. Two dry creek beds address erosion by slowing down fast-flowing water that enters the space, causing sediment to drop out of the water before entering the rain garden and overflow drain.


Phase two features a cut in the asphalt drain uphill from the catch basin which diverts water into a dry creek bed and swale that is a naturalized planting area with similar species as the catch basin. When the swale fills with water, it then overflows back onto the asphalt drain and runs downhill toward the catch basin. This phase also features sandstone boulders which invite movement and play throughout the space.


Since installation, the school has noticed a marked improvement in the stormwater flow, with no evidence of the previous water problems. This has created a beautiful and fun naturalized area for Tuscany School. Less than a year after the installation of phase one, the plantings no longer need supplemental irrigation, and the area is open to students, who can often be seen inventing their own games inside the space and jumping from boulder to boulder. This also reduces student foot traffic directly on the plantings inside the rain garden. There are a multitude of learning opportunities present, including the study of native plants with traditional First Nations uses, pollinating insects, forests, water, lifecycles, and more, as well as being a potent space to engage in inquiry-based learning. Weeding requirements have been minimal, and the site is notably greener than the surrounding schoolyard because of the stormwater infiltration, and the dense planting of ground cover plants.


Design for this project took place in 2016, with the phase one catch basin installation following in 2017, and phase two swale installation in 2018. Temporary wildlife protection is being scaled back each year and will eventually not be necessary as the plantings become established.

Date:  November 29, 2018
Tags:  Schoolyard Naturalization

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