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Child-Friendly or Child-Proof?

Child-Friendly or Child-Proof?

What you need to consider for your church's daycare or school design.

No matter what type of facility you are building or modifying, there are always general design factors to take into account.

However, when that facility’s main purpose is to house children, there are a number of additional elements that must be considered not only to help make the building comfortable and efficient, but to follow codes and regulations developed specifically to protect children. As with any large-scale project, churches embarking on the renovation or new construction of a daycare or school facility, or both, must do their homework up front to achieve the results they desire.

“With daycares and schools, you are dealing with a different building type and a different type of occupancy load,” says Ken Franch, architect and director of religious architecture at Halff Associates Inc. in Richardson, Texas.

Dirk Dalhausser, church planner at Goff Cos., a church planning, construction management and owner representative firm based in Dallas, regularly works with Franch. Dalhausser addresses it this way: “There are general guidelines that stipulate how many children you can comfortably accommodate in a certain square footage,” he explains. “Those can vary, but when you are talking about a daycare facility, the code says that you can have so many kids in a classroom before you have to meet certain requirements.” For example, the code may require that after a certain occupancy load, there must be two exits out of a classroom. “That brings a whole different dynamic to how you design that facility.”

For daycares, national codes also mandate allotted play space outside of the building. Full-time daycares and schools must also be equipped with code-compliant food facilities, and depending on whether or not the organization prepares food onsite or invites children to bring their own lunches, that affects how the building is constructed as well.

Vital Security Visitibility

One of the most critical factors in designing any facility that will accommodate children—even if it’s simply for Sunday teaching—is security. “With anything involving children, security is a paramount issue,” says Gary Kirchoff, principal at HH Architects in Dallas. “The idea of walking into a daycare or school and finding your child somewhere—those days are over.” Security is a big issue, he adds, and it plays a significant role in how a facility is put together. “You have to be able to have access points to manage that security, and you must have proper exits for emergency evacuation, and sometimes those are in conflict.”

Jerry L. Halcomb, founding principal at HH Architects, elaborates that access points to children’s areas should be limited. “When they check them in, typically there would be one point of check-in and sign-up; they would have some sort of a system,” he explains. This helps facilities to minimize issues surrounding who has the right to collect children once school is out. “For example, in the case of divorced parents, the mother may be allowed to pick up the child, but the father isn’t. It’s better to have one point of access into that area to help control this,” he says.

Visibility is also an issue—especially for facilities dealing with very young children. “There should be views into the classroom,” Halcomb says. “For example, if diaper-changing is occurring, they want to have protection for the teachers as well.” Configuring the space so that parents are able to see how their children are being handled not only provides them with a level of assurance, but it offers a level of comfort to teachers and childcare workers, too.

Sustainability plays a role

With the increased emphasis on energy efficiency and sustainability, many facility managers are exploring Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)- inspired standards. Kirchoff points out that HH Architects has several LEED-certified professionals on staff, noting that many of the sustainability features that were once only championed by LEED are now being incorporated into building codes. “Those sustainability features of a facility are being mandated to become part of the architecture, and there are a lot of ways to achieve this without making it imposing on the budget or on the facility itself,” he says. He adds that his firm has been employing sustainable practices in its designs long before they became a primary focus—an approach he dubs “commonsense architecture.”


For example, a building’s physical situation has a large effect on how its occupants can make use of sunlight. “We embrace control of sunlight, whether it can be used to warm the space or, in the summertime, to keep heat from coming in,” Kirchoff explains. “We like to use natural light in public gathering spaces as well as in classrooms.” Energy codes that mandate specific fresh air requirements have resulted in mechanical systems that recycle air—another sustainable element.

However, Kirchoff cautions against the trendiness associated with the term “green.” “The term has been over-used, and it’s been abused, and lot of the things that we see labeled ‘green’ aren’t really ‘green,’” he says. He cites the bamboobased products marketed as green. “After a little bit of research, one discovers that it’s not such a green product because the harvesting of bamboo—in China in particular—is causing deforestation.”

Commonsense energy-efficiency measures

At the same time, educational facilities are continuing to explore how they can minimize their carbon footprint while boosting energy efficiency. This definitely applies to water consumption, and Shimin Luo, president and CEO of AHI Technologies in Wilmington, Del., explains that her company’s tankless water heating systems provide hot water on demand, rather than storing it up in a tank to be distributed throughout the facility. Because the system heats water only when hot water is needed, facilities can minimize hot water overrun.

“With a typical tank system, you will install it in a centralized location, and the hot water will have to travel from that centralized location to wherever the application is,” Luo says. “The system that we offer is tankless, and you install it where you are going to use it.” She adds that the manufacturer’s Thermal Lock product line is equipped with a temperature control feature that enables facilities to pre-set temperatures for various sinks throughout the building. “You can set one temperature for the hand-washing sinks that the children use, and then you can set another temperature, say, a higher temperature, for the kitchens.” AHI’s integrated Coilless Technology prevents limescale build-up, once again, to keep water systems efficient throughout their lifetime.

For Luo, the promotion of green practices in facilities like daycares and schools encompasses not only savings on energy and water costs; it sets an example, as well—one that can affect children’s mindsets well into their adult lives. She says, “Schools and daycares have to think about leading students in a green practice.”

TAGS: Design
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