A new Nature Centre at Guelph Lake Conservation Area is still a few years away from completion, but Conestoga College students recently laid some of the ground work for the multi-million dollar project.
The new Nature Centre has been in the works for a number of years, but some of that delay has been intentional to allow for a number of habitats to be positioned around the eventual new home of the building, said Sara Wilbur, executive director of the Grand River Conservation Foundation.
Late last month, about 40 students from Conestoga College’s Heavy Construction Equipment Operation program built an access road and completed some grading at the eventual site of the new Nature Centre.
"Their efforts will help save approximately $30,000 in site development costs," said Wilbur. "This is the start of the sprint to the finish line, so to speak,” said Wilbur.
The plans to replace the current Nature Centre, which is along the road a few hundred metres from the Conservation Area’s gates, has been in the works for some time.
“Part of the reason of the length of the work is because we wanted to do some habitat features a number of years in advance,” said Wilbur.
When it is built, the new $2.5-million Nature Centre will be located adjacent to the pollinator ponds which were created in 2015 and a newly-planted forest near the main beach parking lot.
“We knew that needed a number of years to get into place, so that it is a valuable learning tool,” said Wilbur.
Thirty-seven species of pollinators can now be found on the site.
“There’s a bridge there and a new outdoor classroom, which is being used for our park visitors right now,” said Wilbur. “This is all being put in place by donations.”
The existing Nature Centre opened in the 1980s in what used to be a single-family home that was expropriated when the dam was built in the 1970s, said Wilbur. A portable classroom was added a few years later.
“Basically, it’s a temporary home for Nature Centre programming that has been temporary for more than 35 years now,” she said.
The current Nature Centre, which Wilbur said just about everyone in Guelph has been to at some point, still sees up to six classes of students per day.
“You can imagine the wear and tear on the house, it wasn’t designed for its current use,” said Wilbur. “The biggest teaching area, apart from the portable, is the former garage of the house.”
The new Nature Centre will solve a few issues, one being size. “These are high-demand programs and we’re turning thousands of people away every year,” said Wilbur.
Secondly, the new Nature Centre will be located within the park itself and Wilbur said it will become a natural hub for year-round activities.
“It will be much more than a replacement school, it will be a hub for everyone who comes to the park — and that is hundreds of thousands of people every year,” said Wilbur.