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Changes being considered for new Guelph Lake Nature Centre

In this Grounded feature we revisit the campaign to build a new nature centre at Guelph Lake

Changes may be on the way for the planned new Guelph Lake Nature Centre, where thousands of students get an up-close environmental education each year.

The project, which was scheduled to open last September, has been delayed due to the pandemic and yet to break ground. Facing new funding challenges, the Grand River Conservation Authority board, staff, donors and others are set to meet later this month or early September to consider potential cost-cutting design revisions.

“We are in the process of reviewing both the funds needed to build the new nature centre, as well as the current building design to determine if changes should be considered,” said Lisa Stocco, manager of strategic communications and environmental education for Grand River Conservation Authority. “We anticipate that additional fundraising will be needed for the project.”

When plans for the new nature centre were first introduced in 2011, it was projected to cost between $2.5 and $3 million.

Further consultation, with a focus on reducing costs, resulted in a revised estimate of $2 million being approved in November 2017.

About $1.6 million in donations had already been raised or committed by that point and the Grand River Conservation Authority agreed to contribute an additional $100,000.

Construction was scheduled to begin in the fall of 2019 and the centre was expected to open in September 2020.

Fundraising efforts continued with help from the Rotary Club of Guelph.

“The GRCA and the Grand River Conservation Foundation are grateful for the support of the Rotary Club of Guelph,” said Stocco.  “Not only towards this project, but a number of other projects including the Guelph Lake Rotary Forest and Trail, as well as the joint Rotary Club of Guelph, City of Guelph and GRCA future city link trail, which is proposed for downstream of the Guelph Lake dam.”

Included in the cost of building the new nature centre inside the park is the demolition of the old nature centre located outside the park on Conservation Road about 500 metres west of the park’s main entrance.

The building, a re-purposed single-family home, rests in a clearing on a hill overlooking the Guelph dam. It was expropriated in the mid-1970s to make way for the dam’s construction in 1976 and was established as a temporary location for the Guelph Lake Nature Centre in 1982.

Approximately 20,000 children visited the centre every year until the pandemic forced the GRCA to close it in March 2020.

“The pandemic has had a significant impact on the GRCA’s environmental education program,” said Stocco. “All of our nature centres remain closed to the public at this time.”

The nature centres remain closed but some of the popular educational programs have adapted to lockdown protocols.

“The environmental education program resumed virtually this spring in partnership with several watershed school boards,” said Stocco. “Currently, we are focused on a review of the program and working with our partner school boards to renew agreements for the 2021-2022 school year so, together, we can continue to connect students to the natural world. Feedback from school boards, teachers and students has been excellent and brings renewed optimism for the future.”

The updated design for the Guelph Lake Nature Centre is expected to provide new opportunities for education programs that connect children with the natural world. The 4,400 sq. ft building is located inside the park next to trails and a pollinator park and will include four classrooms, an office, a lunchroom, a storage room, an animal care room and washrooms.

Construction of the parking lot and some of the landscape features had already started before the pandemic and a new construction schedule is likely to be announced by the end of the summer.

“We are anticipating that an update will be provided to the GRCA and GRCF boards in August or September,” said Stocco.