Educational programming main feature at Ralph Klein Park
Homeschooling parents may have a new place to go to help teach their children about the environment.
Jolene and Alexander Meic, who homeschool their sons Noah and Julian, braved a cloudy, rainy and windy mid-June day to attend the grand opening of Ralph Klein Park in southeast Calgary.
The 30-hectare park, which is located within a 200-hectare engineered-wetland habitat, includes the Environmental Education and Ethics Centre — a building that is surrounded by water and features gabion (stone and wire) walls. It has composting toilets and a green roof with solar panelling.
Ralph Klein, former Calgary mayor and Premier of Alberta, smiles as he locks eyes with wife, Colleen. He made a surprise appearance at the grand opening of the new Calgary public park honoured in his name.
Photo: Shane Flug/Calgary Journal
Anne Charlton, the City of Calgary parks director, said the centre offers environmental education programming in outdoor classroom settings such as learning gardens and wetland viewing areas.
This education initiative is known as the Encana EcoAction School.
Jolene said she would consider putting her kids in one of the classes offered at the centre, or “at the very least” tour the area.
“And then they go home and research what they’ve seen and explore it a little bit more on their own,” she said.
The park development cost $32-million and was funded by the Enmax Parks Program.
The park also integrates public art and stormwater treatment using the vegetation of the wetlands.
Maggie Thompson, facility supervisor for Ralph Klein Park, said that staff at the centre help to educate schoolchildren based on an “inquiry-based learning” method.
“Rather than us coming with a prescribed ‘this is what we’ll teach you’ (type of teaching method), our focus is on ‘what do you want to know?’” she said.
After consultations with teachers, staff act as resources to help answer questions about the environment and other unique elements of the park such as the public art or how the centre was built, Thompson said.
A City of Calgary statement said teachers are able to bring students from Grades 1 to 12 into the Encana EcoAction School’s classrooms for one week to weave environmental and sustainability themes into their cirriculum.
Chris Roberts, architect for the park, said that he has been speaking with the kids who visit the centre for nearly four months.
“They’re growing up with a different (environmental) ethic than a lot of us grew up with,” he said. “Which is kind of necessary.”
The statement said the program had been undergoing piloting since February.
Alexander Meic said he didn’t expect to see something like a classroom at a public park.
“What we were expecting when we originally came here was just a big green space plopped down,” he said.
Thompson said the aim for the older children visiting the centre is to generate interest in them becoming “eco-leaders.”
She added that work had recently started with Mount Royal University environmental design and eco-tourism students about discussing the sustainable design of the building.
“We have zero-waste targets here,” Thompson said.
Alexander Meic said it’s important to educate younger generations about sustainability.
“You can’t just use everything and expect it to always be there,” he said. “It’s kind of insane to think that you can just keep using and using and using and not replenish it and expect it to be there for the future. It’s just not going to happen.”
For the general public, there will be weekend events over the summer called “Ripples,” which Thompson said were jokingly named in contrast to the name of the grand opening event called “The Splash!”
Events featured at the centre include stargazing, as the park is located where there are no city lights to allow better viewing of the night sky, a wetland bird tour and an information session on how stormwater flows from the streets to the Bow River.
“This (park) is a significant investment for Calgary,” said Wolf Keller, city water services director. “If people don’t know why (they) should be doing something, then they’re less supportive of it. And here, we can show people how, in their own homes, (they can) help the situation.”
Nature and Architecture Meet
During the grand opening, the centre featured information sessions on how the park was built.
Left to right, Noah, Alexander, Jolene and Julian Meic pose behind the new Environmental Education and Ethics Centre at Ralph Klein Park. Jolene said she would consider using the Centre’s educational programming as part of her sons’ homeschooling.
Photo: Shane Flug/Calgary Journal
“I’m an architecture nut,” Mayor Naheed Nenshi said. “So I am really thrilled about the design of the buildings and the structures here — these gabion walls and the incredible environmental sensitivity of the buildings — so for me, that’s what’s really cool.”
Roberts said that the windows let in about 70 per cent natural light.
“One of the questions the kids asked was, ‘How do you build a building over water?’” he said. “Well, it’s easy — get rid of the water.”
Roberts explained the water underneath the building is “really just rain water,” and that dams were built during construction for water control and pumping.
Roberts, who has been involved in the project since 2006, said, “I’m kind of sad it’s over, but glad it’s done.”
Ralph Klein, former Calgary mayor and Alberta premier, made a surprise appearance on opening day.
He has made few public appearances recently and spoke few words at the ceremony due to his ongoing battle with a form of progressive dementia.
Klein was handed a remote control from Mayor Nenshi to throw into the water, which signalled both the opening of the park to the public and the turning on of the park’s large waterfall.
Coincidentally, a light drizzle started to fall on the ground of Calgary’s newest public park at almost the exact second the remote splashed into the water.
“I didn’t arrange the rain drops,” Keller joked.