Hold onto your hard hats, Bob the Builder is coming to Blackfriars. Well, sort of.
Construction of the new UTS Child Care (UTSCC) centre is set to start next month. The first step, building a pedestrian pathway off Buckland Street – the new entry and exit point for visitors – has already begun.
According to UTSCC CEO Debra Clarke, a lot has changed since the current centre was built 21 years ago. “This was a great design in its day, but thinking around childcare environments has moved on.”
So too has the demand for childcare places. “We have 500 children on our waiting list. While we do prioritise UTS staff and students, even they have to wait, at times depending on the age of the child, up to two years.”
For Clarke, and UTS, it just wasn’t good enough. The solution? A new state-of-the-art, purpose-built building that raises the centre’s capacity from 50 to 84 places. (UTSCC’s other centre, Magic Pudding, has already expanded from a 40- to 61-place centre.)
“It’s going to be beautiful,” enthuses Clarke. “During the concept phase of the project the design architect, Thierry Lacoste, talked a lot about the fact that children come from homes and that when you put many homes together you end up with something like a childcare centre. His design references the roof pitch of many homes coming together, and it really works nicely on this site because of the heritage buildings.”
Senior Project Manager in Facilities Management Operations (FMO) Angie Clements agrees. “The design of the centre within the heritage precinct is very clever. Whilst it’s playful, it still complements the heritage style. It’s a much more respectful treatment than copying the heritage style and putting in a building that's fake; one that looks old when it's actually not.”
Of course, the building (due to open mid-2017) will be functional too. The design will maximise natural ventilation and air flow, increase the number of playrooms from two to five and include a commercial-grade kitchen, dedicated servery and dining room.
Outside, a larger playground will enable children under two to play in a separate area from those aged two to five. Vegetable gardens and a visible rain tank will help children learn about the environment, as will Rosie and Sarah – the centre’s Bantam chickens – who are set to reap their own benefits with a brand new coop.
“Part of our philosophy is that children don't need bright, plastic surroundings. They need nature-based environments.
That’s one of the reasons, says Clarke, “We'll be keeping some of the mature trees on the site and planting new mature trees. We're hoping to get a lot of our shade in the playground through mature planting.”
The excavation and construction phases of the project will also include “a bit of quiet time” between 12pm and 2pm when highly intrusive noise will not be allowed.
“It doesn't mean we're stopping works completely,” explains Clements. “But it was important for the kids, the staff and the residents on the other side of the street to have a little bit of respite.”
“That’s been one of the real benefits of working with the UTS Facilities Management team,” adds Clarke, “they've always been really approachable and aware of our special clientele.”
Though the redevelopment will mean less on-site parking, Clarke says parents are “overwhelmingly” excited. So too are the children. “Children love diggers! They’re very interested in what's going to happen and I think that's a major opportunity for learning.”
It’s something FMO are keen to help foster, where they can. “We actually have some old hard hats here – because they do go out of date – so I'll be taking them down and giving them to the kids,” enthuses Clements.
“I think the children are going to be the most excited clients we’ve had! Even though I can’t guarantee any of the builders will actually be named Bob.”