Tips for designing & building a new ECE centre

Posted on 31/08/2018

If it’s your dream to design and build your very own, brand new early childhood education centre you probably have some sort of idea in mind of what it will be like. While it’s great to have vision, the many regulations that rule over the sector may see you making some compromises. Before you start, here are our tip and considerations to help you find the best solution.

If it’s your dream to design and build your very own, brand new early childhood education centre you probably have some sort of idea in mind of what it will be like. While it’s great to have vision, the many regulations that rule over the sector may see you making some compromises. Before you start, here are our tip and considerations to help you find the best solution.

How it looks

For the most part, buildings are expected to fit into the character of the area in which they’re located. That means, in residential zones, your design needs to fit with the lower-scale and more intricate details of the surrounding homes. Building in a business zone may offer more opportunity to get creative but it comes with greater urban design requirements.

Design for consent

By far the biggest hurdles to overcome in getting a new early childhood education centre off the ground is getting permission. The Building Code (part of the Building Act 2004) lays out the functional requirements for buildings and performance criteria for particular uses. All buildings must be designed and built in accordance with this code and you also have to obtain a building consent from the local council. Buildings such as ECE centres, where the public can visit, also have ongoing requirements to ensure they remain compliant, safe and fit for purpose.

But before building consent comes resource consent; more often than not ECE centres require this from their local council. The following design considerations will all factor heavily into the success of your application.

Noise considerations

Noise is one of the largest causes of contention for childcare centres. Most district plans set maximum noise levels for different areas that your centre must comply with. Also relevant is the proximity of the centre to other activities that might be making noise (for example, in an industrial zone).

There are also the Ministry of Education’s licensing criteria to factor in; this includes maximum noise levels for inside classrooms, in sleep areas and in outdoor spaces in order to protect child and staff health.

Internal areas

The Ministry of Education have regulations around space requirements (both internal and external). Your licence to operate, which includes how many children you’re allowed to have at your early childhood education centre, is determined by how big the space is when they measure it, regardless of the capacity intended by the design. 2.5m2 per child is the minimum for internal activity space; this applies to clear, unobstructed space. More space is better and allows your business the opportunity to grow its role in future or acts as a buffer should that minimum increase in the future.

In terms of classroom size, larger rooms enable larger group sizes, but there does seem to be a growing trend that prefers smaller, more intimate group settings. Building new gives you the option to enjoy the best of both worlds by designing flexible, adaptable spaces that can change in size.

Outdoor areas

The amount of outdoor space a child has to run around and play in is often a big factor for parents choosing ECE centres. 5m2 per child is reasonable (and the legal requirement), but more is better if you want to have a competitive edge. 

Car parking

Childcare centres are expected to provide the majority of their vehicle parking needs onsite; parking demand is determined by the number of children and staff a centre is designed to accommodate, and sometimes the location of the site (if it’s close to alternative modes of transport or has the potential to share parking requirements with another activity nearby).

We recommend approximately 25m2 for every parking space to incorporate room for turning and circulation.

Layout and street frontage

It’s fairly standard for an ECE centre site to be laid out with play spaces at the back, the building in the middle and parking at the front. With this in mind, the appearance of your centre from the road is something councils are interested in when it comes to consent. To soften hard, practical areas like carparks, good landscaping and materials such as grass-pavers could be the answer.

Single or double storey?

In general, single-storey buildings offer the best proposition as they reduce amenity impacts on neighbours. They’re also normally cheaper to design and construct, and simplify compliance with issues such as fire evacuation and disability access.

There may be circumstances where two-storey buildings are an appropriate solution, such as sloping sites (where level access can be achieved for both levels) or smaller sites (where non-contact administrative areas can be put in a smaller upper storey, reducing the building’s footprint and maximising outdoor play space).

Other indoor spaces, amenities and features to consider

  • Lockers and storage areas, including utility and refuse storage
  • Toilets, bathrooms and nappy changing areas
  • Sleeping areas for different age groups
  • Sick/isolation areas
  • Kitchen and food prep areas
  • Laundry
  • Staff areas for breaks, resources and admin
  • Circulation space
  • Fences, gates, windows and handrails
  • Electrical sockets and telecommunications
Thinking of starting your own ECE centre?

Get started on your journey with by downloading our free Early Childhood Education Centre Building Guide. It’ll give you a good basic understanding of the statutory framework you’ll be operating within, the different stages of development, and what’s involved in applying for consent, as well as your requirements when it comes to the size and surrounding environment of your centre, just to name a few topics. Download it for free now.

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