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Elmira District Secondary School

Courtyard Revitalization

Project notes added by Mark, Oct 2010

It was at a community volleyball game that Barb Gaudet, one of the innovative & hard-working teachers at EDSS, started chatting to me about introducing some real-life learning into her Grade 11 Workplace Science class. I had known Barb for a few years since Earthscape had been helping to teach horticulture to her students, so her ideas of inspiring her kids to learn by integrating practical hands-on project work intrigued me. After throwing around a number of ideas, we finally stumbled onto the idea of getting her students to design and construct a complete renovation to the school’s neglected courtyard. The project took on a life of its own. The design process involved an ambitious plan to renovate virtually all of the area in the 800 square meter space. Using our budgeting process, we discovered that our beautiful plan would cost more than $70,000 to construct (more than any educational facility has on hand to spend on learning projects), but that didn’t stop Barb. Undeterred, Barb morphed from teacher to business developer (aka: fund raiser), tapping into donations of labour and materials. Within a few months, she collected enough waste or recycled materials such as interlocking stone, tree stumps, natural stone, and gravel for 1/3 of the entire project. Her hard work cut the cost of the project from $23,000 to less than $3,000 (that’s almost 90% of the costs). The remaining financial support was provided by EDSS as well as the Township of Woolwich Environmental Education Committee.

The construction process was the highlight of our year …working with kids eager to learn.  The Workplace Science class far exceeded my expectations for work ethic and responsibility.  All the students put in a lot more time than the one class per day requirement.  A few students even obtained permission to skip all their classes on the last few days of school to help get the project done before summer holidays. And a few students didn’t get permission to skip classes but worked with us the whole time anyway. Oops!



The courtyard, being completely enclosed, offers a microclimate for the trees and gardens (or rather, used-to-be gardens) within it. What is missing from this potentially idyllic space are elements to draw students into the courtyard and enjoy it. So, the challenge stood before us …how to create an inviting, exciting, and functional space where students could congregate & socialize either as a group, or be alone to read or reflect?

We began the revitalization project in February 2010 by teaching 3 sessions to the Grade 11 students (and I found out how great a communicator and teacher Zac is). During those sessions, we taught students dimensioning, scaling, site analysis, and design. When those classes were done, the students were divided into groups to produce their own designs. From there, Earthscape took their designs and synthesized 2 alternative designs using our 3D design tools, allowing students to see how professional their design ideas really were. The students voted & selected the bolder, more contemporary design for their new courtyard.

A main feature of the selected design is a sculptural element in the center of the courtyard. The temporary choice was a giant cauldron to represent the maple syrup culture in the region of Elmira. The intent of having a sculpture is for students to exercise creative expression and to manipulate it in different ways to promote different events or holidays. The sculpture can be painted, filled, or covered with decorations, etc, giving the courtyard some identity that draws students to its interiors. It is planned that in the not too distant future, the school will hold a contest to collect ideas on what the permanent sculpture will be in the courtyard. Involving the whole student body in this contest will again encourage interest and activity in an area that has a goal of becoming a central feature of the school’s property.

Other spaces were also designed within the courtyard for a variety of other activities. The memorial garden is a quiet space at the end of the site which has a tree planted in memory of a student who recently passed away. Other objects of memory can also be added there. The climbing wall is an active element where students can challenge themselves & each other. The dais/deck is an area where students can study as a group, read a book, or even have a quick nap during spare. The vegetable garden & mini greenhouse adds an educational element as the school can implement a horticultural class.

Design Animation on Youtube
Concept Design Drawing Set

Thus completes the beginning phases of the ‘new’ courtyard at Elmira District Secondary School. Future phases are to be completed in the coming years. So far it’s been an exciting collaboration involving all kinds of community contribution. So thanks to all of you, it wouldn’t have been possible without your hard work:

Ms. Gaudet

- Grade 11 Science Class students, especially the 3 of you who missed school
- my very handy friends Ron and Luke Hordyk
- Earthscape teammates: Marcus, Brad, Zac and Stu
- EDSS principal, MaryAnne Richer
- Mike Hayes at All Green Tree Service
- Monty Ward at Creative Landscape Depot
- Barb and Larry at E.S. Hoffer and Sons
- Woolwich Rentals
- Township of Woolwich Environmental Education Committee

Thanks for an amazing experience! It was a highlight of our year!

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