The Rotary Club of Red Deer is planning to build an educational facility that safeguards the Slack Slough area in Red Deer County.
The Rotary Wetlands Education Centre, which would be located east of the QEII and south of McKenzie Road, would create a space for the public that showcases environmental innovation, educates visitors and inspires a love of wetlands.
“As glaciers disappear, and as the climate changes, wetlands and preservations of wetlands is going to be critical,” said Bob Mills, a member of the Rotary Wetlands Education Centre steering committee and a former Red Deer MP.
“From the estimates I’ve seen, we’ve lost anywhere from 60 per cent of our wetlands already. We need to educate people of the importance.
“There are 96 species of birds that have been identified (in the Slack Slough area). Plus, the future and value of wetlands I believe is going to be critical in central Alberta in the next 50 years.”
Mills proposed the project to the Rotary Club when it offered $1 million for a legacy project, in celebration of the club’s 100th anniversary in 2023.
“I had approached every government agency there was, and anybody I thought would be interested in the project,” he said.
The Rotary Club chose to support the project and created a steering committee.
“We’ve been in the process of developing a brochure, a webpage and are now fundraising,” he said, adding the project will cost about $6 million.
Through partnerships with organizations, corporations, government agencies and colleges, the centre will feature innovations in science and technology that are minimizing environmental impacts, while advancing both urban and agricultural economic development, according to the centre’s brochure.
The goal is to have the project complete for 2023.
“All of that depends on us being able to raise enough funds to build the building. The county is totally on side, many of the organizations we’ve talked to are on side,” Mills said.
The first major fundraising event is scheduled for May 4. Mills said he hopes the coronavirus pandemic doesn’t interfere with the event.
The building, designed by Grace Zhang of Grace Architecture Inc., can be built in three stages, so all the money wouldn’t need to be raised at once.
“We want it to be an outstanding building that the 120,000 cars (passing by) a day will be able to say, ‘Wow, there’s something we’ve got to go see.’
“We want it to be visible from the highway, with solar panels on the wings, a green roof and everything that says we care about the environment.”
The exact location of the facility is not yet determined.
Mille said he wants the oil and gas industry to be involved in the project as well.
“The educational component for industry is going to be an important aspect of this centre,” said Mills.
“We have to balance industry, agriculture and the environment. That has to be a major theme of this centre, and of course, we want them to be a part of it.
“All the years I’ve been in Red Deer, there have been two major industries: agriculture and oil and gas. We have to balance those (with the environment), because we need jobs, and if we don’t have jobs, we can’t develop a clean environment, so we have to put them together.”
The Rotary Wetlands Education Centre will tie in to the existing 100 kilometres of trails throughout the City of Red Deer, expanding the variety of natural green spaces visitors can explore.
The physical building will blend with the natural areas around it; featuring green building practices to ensure minimal impact is made to the surrounding land.