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NVSD’s multimillion-dollar ‘tree house’ ready for kids
Perched atop a sprawling 420-acre ecological reserve in Paradise Valley near Brackendale, the North Vancouver Outdoor School’s new LEED-certified centre lives up to its “tree house” concept in more ways than one.
To be certain, its up-off-the-ground design vaults visitors into classrooms at eye-level with the native eagles in the surrounding canopy.
But it’s also the building’s ecological design — geothermal water heating and a stormwater harvesting system — that gives the wood-framed Environmental Learning Centre a feeling of being as much of the old growth forest as in it.
After formally opening its doors June 20 to school officials, corporate donors and visiting politicians, the North Vancouver School District is now hoping its award-winning site will itself serve as a cutting-edge teaching tool as kids return to school this September.
“Everything we do up there from how we heat the building or the energy we save with the building or right down to our food services, provides us with an opportunity to have a teaching tool that demonstrates what we’re trying to do,” said Cathy Jenkins, project manager for the North Shore Credit Union Environmental Learning Centre.
With two classrooms, a gallery space, amphitheatre, plus eating and meeting space, Jenkins said the new Outdoor School building ought to prove more attractive now to corporate clients as well — who, in turn, feed money back into the programs for kids.
“We plan to build on that business now that we have a bit nicer space to offer corporate groups and then those funds that we get from our rentals feeds back into the school,” Jenkins said. “We hope to just increase that business side now that we have more to offer.
“But,” she added, “it remains a school.”
Construction on the $5.8-million centre began in February 2011 and was made possible by a $1-million legacy donation from the North Shore Credit Union.
The Outdoor School provides a unique opportunity for North Shore students to learn about the environment with hands-on outdoor programming and overnight field excursions. Prior to the new centre’s opening in June, the school operated out of several small buildings scattered around the ecological reserve, many of which have suffered damage from frequent flooding — a problem the new centre will avoid with its elevated footing.