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Nature Centre celebrates return home

Posted on March 5, 2014 by Lethbridge Sun Times

Photo by Lindsay Ducharme

Coreen Putman, nature interpretation co-ordinator at the Helen Schuler Nature Centre, on the centre’s new “Living Rooftop.”

Although recent temperatures may indicate otherwise, spring is in fact just around the corner. The Helen Schuler Nature Centre has a lot more to celebrate this year than simply welcoming their busiest season, the centre celebrated its grand re-opening on Feb. 27.

While the centre remained open during much of their renovation, albeit in an alternate location, the facility returned to its original home nestled in the river banks at the base of the High Level Bridge. Coreen Putman, the centre’s nature interpretation co-ordinator, said while their temporary location exposed many new visitors to the centre, staff was anxious to return to their permanent location.

“It’s been quite some time; we are really excited that we are at the point that we are going to be able to re-open the building to the public. It’s been about an 18-month process; the facility has just over doubled in size with an extensive renovation to the existing space, as well as new expanded spaces for the public. There’s lots of new exciting things for the public in this renovation project.”

Thanks to the extensive renovations, the facility will see a larger main exhibit gallery, as well as a secondary gallery space Putman says they hope to utilize by including travelling exhibits in the future as well as allowing community artists access.

They have also included a substantially larger community room to aid in hosting larger field trip groups.

“We are excited to be back. Our main exhibit gallery will remain very much the same layout. People really, really enjoyed the child-focused, hands-on, family friendly exhibits, its one of the places in Lethbridge families can come that’s educational but also very interactive; they can play with everything and touch everything, so it’s great that way and we haven’t changed that. Our larger community room will allow us to accommodate several school programs at a time, which is something we couldn’t do before. Especially in the spring and the fall in peak field trip season, a lot of teachers found that it was really hard to book field trip space with us and it’s such a beautiful space to bring the kids,” Putman explained.

Of all the renovations Putman says staff and public alike have been most excited about a feature not located within the facility itself — the centre’s living rooftop.

“The building has two living roofs. The one part of the living roof is called an extensive living roof so it has a very swallow growing medium. They have very fine root systems that are very shallow but they are super hardy plants; they are able to withstand very dry environments, they have done well historically on living roofs for a long time.”

“On the other part, which is the publically accessible portion of our living roof, we have the Alberta Real Estate Foundation living roof. That space features grasses and flowering plants that are native to our area, so it represents the grasslands and the signage up there has a lot of information teaching people about how incredible grassland plants are, how they are adapted to live in some of the most extreme climates in the world and how they change over the seasons. It’s a beautiful space; you actually sit up in the canopy of the cottonwood forest; you are kind of in this little grassland oasis. I know it will be very popular for our community,” Putman continued.

Putman is careful to point out that while the term “green roof” is often tossed around, it is not an adequate description of what the centre’s rooftop will look like. “In our area here in the Prairies, green is not something that really indicates healthy. Most of the time, other than a short six-week period of time, our landscape isn’t green and if it is green it’s because it’s been kept that way on life support with intensive water and intensive chemicals. So we are calling it a living roof because it will be brown for a good portion of the year just like our local landscape.”

By including a living rooftop, Putman explained that not only is it an opportunity to teach the public about the region’s natural habitat, it was also a way to promote sustainable building.

“By having a living roof and having it be accessible to the public and usable programming space, it actually allowed us to have our building’s functionality be bigger than what it is without the footprint being bigger, we were able to keep the building smaller by building up instead of out.”

The rooftop is not the only space to be completely utilized; the centre has embraced the entire building as a teaching tool. Throughout the centre messages, trivia and fun facts regarding land and water conservation, sustainable building and sustainable building practices are embedded into the ceiling, walls and floors. Among the grasses and flowers on the living rooftop, solar panels have been installed to help fuel the building.

The Helen Schuler Nature Centre will continue celebrating their grand re-opening through March 8. Scheduled events cater to all ages and interest levels. Activities include animal builders presentations March 5-6, community yoga class March 7 and a family snow run on March 8. In addition, building scavenger hunts will run throughout the opening celebration.

The fun, however, does not end on March 8, as Putman encouraged the public to be on the lookout for preschool, child and teen programs coming this spring.

“We are also looking for and interested in different groups and organizations to help utilize our space for programming. The Boys and Girls Club are bringing their youth program down and we are working with them in a mentorship relationship and those teens will be doing some programming within our facility. Those kinds of things with the extra space will be the type of growth our community will see.

“The Nature Centre has always been a natural place for people to come and gather and it’s always been a very well used community centre. I think that now with so many amazing features, I know that it will be a place that when people have visitors from out of town they want to feature because they are very proud of it and want to share it. It will be one of those anchor points for travel and tourism in our community in terms of attracting conventions, trade shows and sporting events; it becomes another place visitors can come see.”

For more information on the Helen Schuler Nature Centre, visit lethbridge.ca/hsnc or call 403-320-3064.

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