The adage form follows function is particularly critical in designing and planning ECE environments.
It implies that beauty should always follow usefulness – and this usefulness isn’t just about meeting the regulatory framework and checking off a list. It’s about designing a functional space that makes the daily routines for ECE teachers and support staff easier and more effective. It’s about thinking carefully about the practicalities of your space, and ensuring that design meets all requirements to ensure the success of your business.
While every owner-operator aspires to develop a breath-taking centre, overlooking functionality as it relates to early childhood education can spell disaster – especially if overlooked design elements relate to group sizing and staff ratios. Mistakes in these areas can result in huge ramifications for your business – so it’s vital you safeguard yourself against potential issues right at the beginning of the process.
Whether you’re a developer or centre start up, here are a few key things to consider and be aware of before you begin the design and development process.
There are often conflicts between the requirements of community health, fire, engineering, local council, and the Ministry of Education. Gates, locks and door handles in ECE centres are prime examples when you consider accessible heights versus the safety of children.
These governing and regulatory bodies don’t always agree – which means it’s up to you to find the best case scenario and explain clearly to them why you’ve chosen to do something a particular way. Finding a happy medium and getting all parties to agree can be challenging at times – but the process can be a great deal smoother when you plan accordingly.
Ratios and Group Sizes
We’ve spoken with developers who have taken an architect’s word on a plan’s suitability with regards to group sizes, only to discover mid-way through a project that the architect’s lack of sector knowledge has created issues that significantly impact ratios, and – therefore – a centre’s profitability.
Entrust the design of your centre to someone with experience in ECE and preschool design, and a sound understanding of the industry.
Note that ratios and group sizes may need to be reviewed. The original regulations were reviewed in 2008 (prior to this 1998) and are due for review in the next year or two.
Resource Versus Building Consents
When it comes to building consents and resource consents, be aware that the two may not match (since there is typically a great deal more involved in a resource consent).
It’s also important to negotiate and rectify any requests for information that come through early in the process as these can impact and alter consents – particularly with regards to noise restrictions and operating hours, which can both have a major impact on your business.
Consent Without Consultation
Going to consent without consultation can have major consequences for the daily running of your business, stress factors on staff, correct ratios, and even your licensing. Talk to your staff for their input, and get guidance from an expert in the sector who understands every part of the process, and can identify potential roll-on ramifications, such as the need to employ an additional teacher if your ratios are incorrect.
Practicality and Best Use of Space
Think very carefully about the best use of space and how all the pieces of your centre fit together – and then ensure those details are included in your plans.
If you have ‘dead’ space in hallways or underutilised areas, you’re essentially taking space away from learning and development spaces. Ensure your centre design offers the best working spaces for teachers while also meeting community health regulations.
When thinking about what works well, also take time to reconsider things that don’t work. For example, it’s not practical or functional to have bottle warmers or other types of equipment in areas set for sleep.
It’s vital that sleep spaces are shown as such on your plans to meet engineering and acoustic regulations – and show how many cots will be in that space. There can be major impacts (especially in terms of fire engineering regulations) if things are not labelled properly.
It never pays to work through the process backwards. In fact, based on our experience working with clients who have come to us mid-way through a development when things have gone wrong, those clients often spend just as much – if not more – of their budget trying to backtrack and rectify issues, than those who plan ahead and employ our expertise at the beginning of a project.
When it comes to your business, safeguarding yourself against potential issues is crucial to success and providing quality education and care.
We’re always more than happy to discuss any questions you may have, so please don’t hesitate to contact us for more information.