May 2, 2024

In conversation with Ian Gaudet, Superintendent of Facility Services and Planning with the Halton District School Board


The Climate Ready Schools Conversation Series connects those interested in transforming school grounds with the expertise of key leaders who have partnered with Evergreen on climate adaptive design projects.

Evergreen’s Climate Ready Schools builds on our 30-year legacy of transforming school grounds across Canada into nature-rich play and learning environments for both children and their communities. The Climate Ready Schools Conversation Series is focused on connecting people and organizations interested in this important work with the knowledge and expertise of key leaders and change advocates who have partnered with Evergreen on these innovative climate adaptive design projects. 

an Gaudet - Superintendent of Facility Services and Planning with the Halton District School Board

Ian Gaudet is the Superintendent of Facility Services and Planning with the Halton District School Board (HDSB). Ian supported the Irma Coulson Climate Ready School pilot as a steering committee member.  

What do you see as the role of schools and school boards in sustainability and climate action?  

I’d like to see us as leaders. The Halton District School Board has a huge inventory of facilities and over 800 acres of land! If we can leverage those spaces and improve the climate resiliency of those 800 acres to set an example of what’s possible, it will have a wonderful impact on our communities and the planet. 

What has changed since the opening of the Irma Coulson Climate Ready School ground? 

It’s been a positive experience for our school board as a whole — Irma Coulson’s school ground is a real star! We are leveraging the knowledge and the learning what we’ve gained through this project and applying it to other school sites and some of our new builds. It has led to learning across teaching staff, not only at this school, but across the Halton District School Board. 

What are some challenges associated with implementing an innovation project of this scale? 

Building this project during a pandemic was probably the largest challenge. Having worked in construction for a few decades, I’ve never experienced anything as challenging as building during the pandemic. Getting this project off the ground and moving during that time, despite supply chain issues, was something to be proud of. 

It was a very ambitious project — the scale was certainly one of the challenges. One of the things that you first see when you look at the design is just how much stormwater planning and design went into it, because it’s quite an acreage and a large school ground. Looking at the before and after photos, you see acres of mud and a lack of green space transformed into a rich, biodiverse, topographic, highly interesting school ground. It’s quite a success! 

One of the unique things about this project was the skill set that was brought to the table through Evergreen and international expertise with Birgit Teichmann (who led the design of the Irma Coulson Climate Ready School Ground). So, though there were technical challenges, we also had the technical expertise to problem-solve. 

What challenges has your Board faced while transforming the school ground into a climate adaptive landscape?  

Probably the biggest thing to consider is challenging our traditional thinking. Traditional thinking around green spaces is to keep them simple and low cost. With that approach, there’s not much room for a vision. I don’t anticipate that this will be an expensive school ground to upkeep, but it is certainly not traditional in terms of the features that we’ve integrated with the biodiversity, the pathways, the interlocking pavers, the water features, the sand play and then the climbing structures. 

Certainly, there will be some added costs for mulch and ongoing inspections and maintenance of the equipment, but it’s not overwhelming. It’s more of a shift in mindset away from the traditional flat, boring soccer pitch. 

What do you think are the key ingredients to successfully implementing a Climate Ready School ground? How does engaging the school community factor into this work? 

As with any project, the team is very important. This was a partnership with Evergreen and our contractor. Any project is like that — you have your design team and contractor as well as the owner. If you approach the project in the spirit of partnership and collaboration, the results are better than when it’s adversarial. Evergreen and our contractors shared the vision, excitement, and passion for this project. 

Engagement with the students, staff and school community was very well done and far-reaching. Evergreen hosted a variety of fireside chats and other opportunities to engage with the community in a unique way during the pandemic. This provided a unique opportunity to engage smaller groups more inclusively. 

How are you integrating climate resiliency and adaptive design practices into other school ground projects across the Halton District School Board? 

In some of our new builds we are moving away from the traditional, full-size soccer pitch. We’re providing smaller, flat surfaces for play, and actively implementing the topography that you see at Irma Coulson with meaningful pathways and connections into the neighborhood. 

With some of the funding that we secured from the provincial and federal governments during the pandemic under the COVID-19 resilience Infrastructure stream fund, we were able to implement outdoor learning spaces for every one of our school sites. 

We’re also growing other new partnerships to plant trees and provide more biodiversity at each of our existing school sites. We’re planting our second Miyawaki forest. With support from Credit Valley Conservation, we’re implementing rain gardens and summer plantings. We’ve got a great foundation to build upon! 

How are you weaving sustainability and climate action into your policy work? 

One of the first things we did when I joined the Halton District School Board was look at our environmental policy and update it to include the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. We need to build a connection between our policy work and what our students are learning about to improve connection and their experience within our schools. 

What advice would you give to leaders in other school boards who are interested in pursuing a Climate Ready School ground? 

It is worthwhile! While it may initially appear as a cost, there is a huge payback in terms of the benefit to students and the climate resiliency of the site. Not every school has to be at the size and scale of the Irma Coulson project. You can start small to improve whatever aspect you deem is the biggest priority within your school community, whether that’s stormwater management or biodiversity or some other change that will support learning. 

Learn more 

Are you interested in supporting the Climate Ready Schools program? Are you representing a school board interested in your own Climate Ready Schools journey? Please send your inquiries to We’d love to hear from you! 

Want to learn more? Check out our wealth of resources on the Evergreen Resource Hub. 

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