Childcare has never been more of a deciding factor when it comes to returning to the workforce, and it’s not just for the kids. For 2022’s key stakeholder, the working parent, investment in childcare development is the key to getting the local economy back on its feet.
The Child Care Services industry felt the wrath of the pandemic with lower enrolment and attendance, reduced fee income, as well as temporary closures experienced at the same rate as the retail sector. 2020’s Stage 3 and 4 lockdown restrictions meant Victoria’s industry was hit the hardest - Reoccurring lockdowns in 2021 continued to halter the recovery of this state, but things are looking up.
With structural shifts and government ambitions to get more parents back to work, real estate investors have been entering the childcare market with force. While interest in the childcare industry had already been steady, the reopening of the state has accelerated demand from working parents, which has, in turn, fuelled investor interest.
Victoria is currently the biggest destination for investment in the sector, recording $92-million worth of sales. Yep, it’s big business. 178 new centres opened up in the second quarter of 2021, a 34% increase in the first few months of the year. However, National Quality Standard (NQS) ratings for childcare and early education centres declined to 28%.
With the haste to open, the process of designing and developing a centre can potentially skimp on quality. It’s imperative designers, builders, and architects remain vigilant with the rules and regulations surrounding these spaces for the littlest members of our society.
These rules include:
● Every child must have a minimum of 3.25m2 of space inside and 7m2 outside
● Adequate parking
● Zoning regulations
● Handles on doors to outside areas must be child-height
● Handles on doors to staff areas must be much higher
● Potential hazards must be identified and resolved
● Rooms must be light-filled
● Children must always be able to access outdoor space
● Rooms must be large enough for staffing ratios: One childcare provider for every four children under three, and every 11 children from three to five years old.
Over the past few years, childcare centres have gone from the kiss-and-drop for working parents, to early education centres with high-end facilities. Parent demand and close-by competition mean the more a care centre can present an early education curriculum, safety measures, and staff qualifications, the more it’ll be the choice of discerning parents.
For OLSK, constructing the Inspire Early Learning Childcare Centre in Burwood was an exercise in adaptive reuse, as the original buildings were a combination of a former church flanked by two residential homes.
Designed by childcare centre specialists Co-Lab Architects, the combination of angles and different building typologies transformed the church into a state-of-the-art education facility, designed to foster independence in children. The site was approximately 3,000m2 and provides spaces for 145 children across 7 childcare rooms of varying age groups and 11 different play areas, revealing the complexity of reusing existing buildings.
The design assists independence through a self-serviced kitchen, as well as large, open floor plans and easy access between indoor and outdoor spaces for a holistic learning experience.
Creating airy, natural spaces that appeal to adult aesthetics is also a key selling point for centres. For OLSK, bringing the outdoor areas to life meant more than just Astroturf and a sandpit; it needed to be imaginative, yet safe, in natural colours for wide appeal.
"With a large focus on the outdoor play spaces, we delivered a timber-focused design with curved feature batten screening," says Jared King of OLSK.
Kool Kidz Gardenvale was designed and built in a similar vein. A premium, purpose-built early learning childcare and kindergarten, all rooms boast a spacious play area, with educational resources, dedicated sleeping areas, easy access baby change tables and toilet facilities throughout the building.
Heading the construction and site management, Jared worked closely with Kane Barnett from Co-Lab Architecture to deliver their coastal-themed outdoor play area featuring Brighton beach boxes, pirate ships, decks, and planks. Differentiating the playgrounds is key to a childcare centre’s success, and Kool Kidz location in Gardenvale coupled with over 1,500m2 of playgrounds, certainly attracts the local Bayside community. The facility also has a unique on-site cafe, commercial kitchen, feature fish tank, and dedicated kids dining area.
Co-Lab completed the aesthetic with timber look vinyl floorboards, unique slide-outstep stools, circular decking, and a vegetable garden. The ideal space to stimulate children’s imaginations, appeal to staff and parents, and adhere to the stringent safety measures in the current state play.
During COVID and Victoria’s continuing, and what felt like everlasting, lockdowns, the childcare industry remained open. Early in the pandemic, the government even subsidised 100% of childcare fees, as the task of working from home, whilst home schooling was just too much for many parents to endure. Especially with the younger children, like babies and toddlers, wanting to play with older siblings whilst mum and dad tried to work. This was a significant shift for childcare educators, seeing a rise in enrolments which allowed their businesses to remain open. Despite not seeing the same financial return from the enrolments and enduring some of the darkest days Victoria has seen - they have come out of it stronger than ever.