Westwood Collegiate’s courtyard is getting a much needed revamp.
The underused plot of grass in the middle of the high school at 360 Rouge Rd. has been the subject of discussions for years, but now it has the attention of landscape architects from the University of Manitoba.
"The courtyard right now just has a couple of picnic tables in it and over the years different people have made an attempt to make it into a more usable space," vice-principal Sarah James said.
A staff committee came together in 2018 and started exploring options for the space. One of the stumbling blocks was a new policy of the St. James-Assiniboia School Division that requires the hiring of a landscape architect for any playground or greenspace renovations.
"It’s very expensive. It was estimated that alone was going to cost $6,000," James said.
The committee approached the U of M’s Faculty of Architecture to see if there was any interest in collaborating on the project. Landscape architecture professors and urban designers Dietmar Straub and Anna Thurmayr jumped at the opportunity.
"For us it’s a fantastic opportunity to get involved with people here, with communities," said Straub, who moved to Winnipeg with Thurmayr and their family 11 years ago.
The couple agreed to do the design work free of charge, provided they could experiment and conduct design research in the courtyard. They will be testing how different kinds of plant life, paint and wood manage and behave together in Winnipeg’s extreme climate.
The intention is to create a good place for learning that treads lightly on the natural elements already living in the courtyard. A series of raised wooden pathways and stages will weave between existing trees and mingle with native plants.
Westwood’s art room, library and weight room look out onto the couryard.
"It will be such a great use of space for kids to even just visually be able to see it," James said.
Inspiration for the design came while the family was camping in Blue Lake Provincial Park in Ontario last summer. Found wood, pine needles, moss and berries were used to create the initial design — many elements of which made it into the final concept.
"We used just the material which the summer was providing," Thurmayr said. "The time we spent at Blue Lake in the summer was really important for us to bring this feeling back to Winnipeg."
The courtyard is only accessible through the school, so the architects had to have a plan for how the decking would be brought in and assembled.
The cost of materials for the new courtyard is estimated at $40,000. To save money and get students involved, Westwood is planning on doing a community build this fall.
"It’s very exciting as an educator," James said. "We’re really giving kids authentic experiences that are cross-disciplinary... It’s really a fun way to learn and it’s very student-centred and they will get that experience of working with community members and the university."
Straub agrees that community involvement is an important part of the project.
"That’s very important for the community-building aspect because if you are a student and you plant a tree in that courtyard you will become the guardian of your space," He said.
Westwood kicked off fundraising for the project at its For the Love of Art event on April 8.
Eva Wasney reports on arts, culture and life for the Winnipeg Free Press.