Design and locate a child care centre

As many of us continue working from home, local residential noises become frustratingly more obvious, especially as we hop in and out of endless Zoom meetings throughout the day.

Dealing with your own children is one thing. However, if you’re located near a childcare centre, early learning centre or school that’s a different matter entirely.

Children are noisy. A group of children is a lot louder than just one. And when children get bored, the volume can increase even more.

Now, combine this with the need to have childcare centres in the heart of communities and residential areas that are easily accessible to families. Let’s add generous play spaces outside, vehicle noise from pickup and drop-off, and the kids themselves to a site that is typically open from 7 am to 6 pm, Monday to Friday for up to 52 weeks per year.

As you can imagine, when it comes to noise management, the location, design, planning and ongoing running of a child care centre can be a challenging.  This applies for both internal noise within the centre, as well as noise emitted into the surrounding environment.

As acoustical consultants we advise clients, such as property developers, on both the internal and external noise impacts as they plan new facilities.  While internal acoustic design to control the noise from multitudes of children is a challenge in itself, for this article we will be focussing on the environmental noise from childcare centres.

We use industry guidelines to base our Noise Impact Assessments (NIA) for child care centres upon. NIAs usually include information around protecting the acoustic privacy of nearby residents and offer recommendations to ensure child care centres don’t generate unacceptable noise.

NIA’s will also provide guidance for the minimum requirements for adequate space, variety, diversity and play opportunities for children to help reduce the noise levels and for the protection of children from excessive noise for example from roads, industrial premises, aircraft or rail operations.

We recently advised a residential building complex on the addition of a new childcare centre on site, when it had originally been assigned for commercial tenancies. With apartments overlooking outdoor areas of the proposed childcare centre there was much potential for noise to be an issue for residents.

After completing the NIA, the developer included  noise barriers in locations height and orientation to specifically screen neighbouring apartments to show compliance with industry standards.

One hurdle some developers may face is that the noise criteria for Childcare Centres are typically based on existing noise levels in the area. For example, if a child care centre is proposed in an urban area versus a quiet residential area, it can be easier to meet guidelines based on the higher existing noise levels already recorded in urban areas as opposed to rural, quieter areas.

Here are some ideas around how to manage noise when it comes to child care centres which are taken from the Association of Australasian Acoustical Consultants Guideline for Child Care Centre Acoustic Assessment.

Building design

The design of a child care centre should aim to locate sleeping and outdoor play areas away from external noise. Where feasible, building designs should be based on a “U” shaped or “L” shaped layout, with outdoor play areas positioned such that the building structures act as a noise barrier.

Suggestions also include maximising the separation between the active outdoor play area (as opposed to passive activities such as painting, drawing etc) and the façade of any neighbouring residential premises.

Design operable windows of the child care centre and external play areas to not have a direct line of sight to neighbouring noise sensitive areas.

And also, locate access ramps away from neighbours where possible and include self-closing gates with soft closure hinges, select low noise air-conditioning condensers, minimise the use of speed humps and ensure car park surfaces and access ways are smooth.

Outdoor Play Areas

Outdoor play areas should be located to minimise the noise impact on neighbours. For ‘green field’ sites consideration should be given to surrounding the outdoor play area with buildings used to either totally or partially provide a barrier where practical.

Hard-paved areas and pathways within the children’s play area should be reduced to stop reverberant noise levels.

Buildings and Other Structures

Buildings and other structures such as storage sheds or covered shade areas with solid roofs can be a great way of providing an acoustic barrier to loud outdoor play areas.

Boundary Fences

The standard height for a boundary fence is 1.8 metres. Higher fences that are solid and free from visible gaps will reduce the noise impact for ground floor receptors.

Your council can provide guidance on the allowable height of fences for your local area.

Limiting the Number of Children Outside

The number of children within the Centre or playing in the outdoor play area at any one time could be limited to reduce noise. For example, a reduction in the number of children by half will reduce the noise impact by approximately three decibels.

Drop off and Pick up

Noise control measures should be implemented to minimise adverse impacts to neighbours caused by car doors slamming and the sound of parents and children arriving or departing the Centre.

Such measures could include locating arrival and departure access points away from neighbours or the provision of acoustic fencing or landscaping.

When it comes to noise levels its best to consult with your architect or acoustic consultant early on, preferably in planning stages, as there are many quick and easy ways to ensure the design and location can meet guidelines.

Early engagement will mean you’re not faced with potential costly design features that need to be added after the facility is complete, as well as angry neighbours!

For more information and advice contact us at info@resonate-consultants.com or call the nearest office.

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