Converting any existing building to a different use can be challenging, but especially so for an early childcare program. There are many physical building features, as well as operational aspects to consider. You will have to account for all the applicable Building Codes as well as the Statutes and Regulations from the State Office of Early Childhood. We at Patriquin Architects have worked on multiple early childcare facilities, from new construction, to phasing an existing facility for expansion, and even converting existing buildings into early childcare facilities. To make it easier for those considering an existing building to house a new early childhood program, we have come up with a checklist to help decide if a specific building will work for your program.
✓ Appropriately Sized Rooms
State regulations have minimum net usable areas per child within a classroom (35 in CT). There are maximum numbers of children per classroom (8 infant/toddlers or 20 preschool age children in CT); and minimum teacher/child ratios (1:4 for infant/toddlers, 1/10 for preschool children in CT). There are no separate sleeping room requirements, but where space allows, these are helpful. In any case, there must be room for cribs and/or cots, depending on the children’s age.
✓ Plumbing Access For All Rooms
It is important that the building is equipped, or can be upgraded with the required number of plumbing fixtures. There needs to be at least one hand washing sink and one toilet per 16 children. An infant/toddler room must have one changing table with a dedicated sink. It is advised to have these fixtures within the rooms for supervision and ease of access. There must be a separate restroom facility for the staff and adults.
✓ Life Safety
Safety is always our top concern. If there is an emergency, infants and toddlers can be difficult to evacuate. The building needs to have at least 2 means of egress. In addition, each classroom needs to have access to the outdoors at grade level. Alternatively, the building can be sprinklered.
✓ A Plan For Meals And Snacks
Throughout the day, the children will eat lunch and one or two snacks. It is advisable to have an area in each classroom for food consumption, preparation, and storage. A small kitchenette with an under the counter refrigerator works well in each classroom. If this is not feasible, a shared kitchen can be used, however extra staffing will need to be considered to watch the children while meals are prepared.
Outdoor active play is essential for children. The minimum amount of space for each child in a playground at one time is 75 square feet. If it is feasible, we suggest each classroom has its own play area, as not to hinder the amount of time it can be used by the children. Every playground needs to be fenced and have reasonable access to toilet facilities and drinking water.
✓ Adequate Parking And Easy Drop-off / Pick-up Access
During the pick-up and drop-off busy hours, the parking lot can get congested. This is not only an annoyance, but could be a safety issue as well. It is important that the parking and traffic circulation is adequate to service the parents and the staff in a clear and cohesive way.
Check out our case study article: Early Childcare Head Start Conversion to see how this checklist can be implemented.
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