Seaside >> By this time next year, a section of Roberts Lake in Seaside will have been transformed into an outdoor classroom offering environmental education programming and a nature-based play area.

The city of Seaside, along with Sustainable Seaside, is one of three U.S. cities that has been selected as a Building Better Communities grant recipient and awarded $150,000 from the American Water Charitable Foundation and the National Recreation and Park Association.

“The Roberts Lake project is important for Seaside because we noticed there are children who never experience water — whether it’s the beach or our lakes,” said Gloria Stearns, Seaside’s economic development manager. “This project gives us an opportunity to help them become exposed to water, water conservation, water ecology and water quality.”

Stearns said the city had been toying around with the idea for some time and when they approached Sustainable Seaside to collaborate, they jumped at the chance to become involved.

Sustainable Seaside is a group of concerned citizens working toward solutions to environmental challenges in the region, promoting sustainable living practices since 2008.

The grass-roots group has been on the forefront of several environmental issues including opposition to the Monterey Downs project in Seaside, work as proponents of the closure of the Cemex sand-mining operation in Marina and now its partnering with the city of Seaside to revitalize and maintain its parks.

“It’s quite gratifying,” said Catherine Crockett, chair of Sustainable Seaside. “We’ve been working to build support and educate people and its finally coming to fruition.”

The projects were chosen based on several criteria including water components, play value, education value, proximity to American Water’s service areas, relevance of the project to the request for proposal project parameters, use of natural play materials and opportunities for American Water employee volunteer involvement.

“We are proud to help these communities create public projects that provide environmental education opportunities in a fun and engaging way,” said Laura Martin, president of American Water Charitable Foundation, in a press release. “The projects will not only benefit the children and families in these communities, but they will also encourage greater interaction with and appreciation for our nation’s water resources.”

The Roberts Lake grant will be used to establish greater use and awareness of the lake for water-based ecology education for children, as well as offer nature-based recreation opportunities for people of all ages and abilities.

“Successful communities invest in their parks,” said Craig Malin, Seaside’s city manager, in a release.

The grant funding will help Seaside leverage investment in its parks and programming, especially for youth and seniors, he said.

The new Roberts Lake Eco-Recreation Station will occupy 8,500 square feet of the 5.7-acre park, and will be designed with the purpose of creating community, including an outdoor classroom structure and nature-inspired play equipment.

The project will be a collaboration between the foundation, the National Recreation and Park Association, Cal Am, and the city of Seaside with Sustainable Seaside advising on course content and age-appropriate materials.

Stearns said the project is required to be completed within a year and envisions the eco-recreation station opening in July 2018.

The other two U.S. cities that received funding are Palmer Park in Coatesville, Pennsylvania, which is receiving $150,000 to revitalize the neighborhood park and Peoria, Illinois, which will also receive a grant in the same amount to build a new public park.

The American Water Charitable Foundation was established in 2010 with a founding contribution from American Water — Cal Am’s parent company — and the National Recreation and Park Association is a national nonprofit dedicated to ensuring all Americans have access to parks and recreation for health, conservation and social equity.

James Herrera can be reached at 831-726-4344.