Dalhousie School

About this project

At the beginning of this project, Dalhousie School had close to 500 students, and only one small playground that quickly becomes overcrowded during recess and lunch hour. The impetus for this project was to create additional multi-functional nature spaces on the school grounds that would provide options for student play, learning, and exploration. They wanted these places to be inviting for all ages, where users could be challenged, stimulated, and refreshed by the natural environment around them in all four seasons. Activities envisioned to happen in these nature spaces included physical activity through climbing and balancing on rocks and logs, and spending classroom time in the spaces observing, measuring, drawing, discussing, and helping to maintain the spaces. Erosion was a concern in several areas around the school grounds where a combination of steep slopes and student foot traffic were having an impact on the landscape. At the front of the school, there was a desire to create a safe and more approachable drop-off and pick-up area for students that offers a place to gather, beautifies the area, and creates a new community asset. Parent council and school administration embarked on this project with the goal of getting various members of the school community working together throughout the design, installation, and maintenance of the spaces, in an effort to build a greater sense of community spirit at the school.


As a part of the conceptual design for the entire school grounds, we engaged with students, teachers, and members of parent council in customized engagement sessions, which included each classroom producing designs for the school grounds. We identified four broad areas where nature spaces could be included around the school grounds, and synthesized the data from the engagements to create a final conceptual design. This design provides a vision for improving the grounds at Dalhousie School for many years to come.


The first phase of the design was installed in the southeast area of the schoolyard (Area 3). You enter into the area on a wide crushed aggregate pathway, that is bordered on one side by a dry creek bed that accepts rainwater from the adjacent asphalt area and directs it toward planted areas. The dry creek bed also provides an interesting boulder obstacle course for students to engage in active play. Further along a group of existing benches have been enhanced by the addition of Rundle boulders to create a functional outdoor classroom and newly planted shade trees. To the north of the main pathway is a long, linear berm to shelter the area from playing fields and create topographical interest, along with an obstacle course made of locally-sourced logs and stumps. To the south of the main pathway is a food forest and first nations garden, which is permanently fenced to protect the plants from wildlife. As a final step in the installation, students were invited into the space to help plant some of the bushes and trees in the food forest and first nations garden. In these interactive sessions, students received a lesson about planting, soil, and caring for the new nature space that they had helped design and plant.


When the construction fences came down and students were first invited into the space, we overhead several of them exclaiming “they used my ideas!!”. The area was soon flooded with students exploring the new nature space, jumping between the boulders in the dry creek bed, and playing recorder and eating their lunches on the benches and boulders in the outdoor classroom. Students and teachers were overjoyed to finally have an large new area to play, learn, and explore.


The design was completed in late 2017 and was heavily influenced by the results of extensive engagement with students, teachers, school administration, and parent council. Installation of the first phase was completed in the summer and fall of 2018. Future phases may be installed as funding becomes available.

Date:  March 13, 2019

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