The Architecture of Child Care Centre Investment and Development

In childcare architecture, an architect’s desire to imbue internal spaces with their own design signature must largely be suppressed.
— Kane Barnett, Director
 

With the continued rise in urban development and the increasing expansion of growth corridors in and around large cities such as Melbourne, child care centres have become a highly profitable investment for Australian developers. But the process of designing and developing a centre can easily become complicated or even stalled if the parties involved are not familiar with the rules and regulations surrounding child care.

There are many factors to consider in order to develop a feasible enterprise attractive to potential customers. At Co-lab Architecture we have years of experience in providing architecture design solutions for the child care industry. As result we have developed an efficient methodology for designing profitable centres and below we share some of our insights.

 A difficult site doesn't exclude a solution; it just makes the resolution more complex. For example, at Murray Rd Preston an existing heritage building has been incorporated into the new child care centre design.

A difficult site doesn't exclude a solution; it just makes the resolution more complex. For example, at Murray Rd Preston an existing heritage building has been incorporated into the new child care centre design.

Determining Site Feasibility

When we begin the architecture design process for a child care centre, the first thing we think about is the feasibility of the site. Firstly, a developer must determine the number of children they are looking to accommodate within their centre, as that will dictate the rest of the design. Due to strict regulations surrounding space allocation, it is essential to locate a site that can meet these requirements.

Next, is the issue of zoning - both in terms of council regulations and profitability. In our experience, councils are often welcoming of child care centres as they are an employer for the local area and work well amongst other activity centres such as shops or medical suites. Additionally, in terms of clientele, they are welcomed on the fringes of residential areas or near workplaces - locations where parents can drop their children off on their way to work.

Having determined an optimal location for a child care centre, the site itself needs to be evaluated for its suitability. For example steep slopes, wooded areas, creeks and floodplains could eat into the required outdoor space, whilst boundary regulations could reduce the potential size of the indoor floor plan. A difficult site doesn’t exclude a solution; it just makes the architectural resolution more complicated.

Once a suitable site for the construction of a child care centre has been located, we then need to design a layout that complies with the intricate web of rules and regulations mandated by the government. We collaborate with a child care consultant in every centre design process, and over the years we have developed a detailed understanding of centre requirements.

Current regulations dictate that every child must have 3.25 sqm of space inside and 7 sqm outside, whilst there must also be ample parking for parents. Design needs to take into account the need for fencing, gate swings, outdoor toilets, and indoor furnishings such as skirting boards. This means the actual space requirements are bigger than the regulations might imply. Added to this are rules around the dimensions of child care rooms, the need for children to always be able to access outdoor space and for rooms to be light-filled.

Regulations also dictate staffing ratios and design compliance. For example, there must be one child care provider for every four children under three and for every eleven children from three to five years old. This will impact the number of adult toilets, as well as the space a developer might allocate to staffrooms, offices, and planning rooms.

Developing compliant working drawings that ensure building works progress unhindered requires an intricate knowledge of the subtleties of safety in child care. For example, handles on doors to outside areas must be child-height, whereas handles on doors to staff areas must be much higher. Potential finger traps and climbing hazards must be identified and resolved.

 Kool Kidz Docklands needed to meet childcare regulations as well as adhere to heritage overlays. A complex balancing act whilst still focused on ROI.

Kool Kidz Docklands needed to meet childcare regulations as well as adhere to heritage overlays. A complex balancing act whilst still focused on ROI.

 The design of Murray Rd Preston balances the needs of child, parent, developer and licensee.

The design of Murray Rd Preston balances the needs of child, parent, developer and licensee.

Balancing Parents, Children and Return On Investment

When designing a site, however, we are not just considering government regulations, but also the needs of the three critical audiences: the parent, the child and the developer.

Many parents would prefer not to put their children in child care and as a result they experience angst and guilt. Our design solutions address the need to alleviate this parental guilt. We do this by creating airy, natural spaces that appeal to adult aesthetics.

Simple colours and pared back designs also appeal to children, as they react best to spaces they can make their own. Glass provides a sense of freedom, perspective and a connection to their peers in context. Creating versatile spaces that can be modified easily to stimulate children’s imagination means the architect’s desire to imbue internal spaces with their own design signature must largely be supressed.

Just as important is the creation of a space that appeals to staff. A dedicated and professional workforce is essential in order to retain parents and provide consistency of care to children. To attract and maintain an engaged workforce means catering to their needs. This includes incorporating a staffroom, curriculum planning rooms, and considering showers for those staff who cycle to work. All of these rooms add up both financially and spatially, making the design of a child care centre a delicate balancing act between resources, regulations, aesthetics and feasibility.

For the developer the focus is always on maximising investment yield. We’ve found there are an optimal number of children to meet this demand. To deliver to the optimum, it becomes a negotiation between meeting child care building regulations, considering day-to-day management of the centre, and designing for profitable staffing ratios.

Of course as architects working with developers, we understand the balance between distinctiveness and cost effectiveness. We achieve this by producing sophisticated solutions using practical and efficient construction. Working with clients to navigate these factors, we have designed single storey centres, three-storey centres with secure balcony play areas, inner city rooftop developments, and child care facilities in heritage-listed buildings.

The Importance Of An Experienced Architect

Whilst child care centres present the opportunity for strong returns on investment, this can only be achieved if the process is managed efficiently and expertly from the outset. Failing to take into consideration small changes such as the depth of a skirting board can have implications on the number of children a centre is licenced for and, as a result, can impact heavily on profits. Working with experienced architects and designers is the best way for a developer to protect their investment and optimise their returns.

Co-lab Architects have worked closely with a number of child care providers to design unique and cost-effective centres in a variety of locations. If you’d like to learn more about child care development, call on 0425 756 708 or email at kane@colabarchitects.com.au.

Disclaimer: This content does not constitute professional advice and should not be taken as such. All cited government regulations are subject to change.

 

 Co-lab brings together experienced architects and designers at the beginning of every project in a collaborative workshop resulting in the presentation of a number of creative directions for a developer to consider. 

Co-lab brings together experienced architects and designers at the beginning of every project in a collaborative workshop resulting in the presentation of a number of creative directions for a developer to consider.