I tuned into an episode of the AIA’s NJ Post Pandemic Webinar Series that highlighted day care spaces and the facility design changes anticipated in a post-pandemic world.

When the COVID-19 outbreak began, architects were forced to research and quickly establish best practices to advise clients regarding safety responses in the built environment. This required understanding that the modes of transmission boil down to (1) person to person spread (2) airborne transfer (3) and surface transmission. The guiding question: how do we apply dependable spread prevention measures to childcare buildings?

Re-Evaluating Learning Settings

Considerations in ventilation like supplemental air filtration systems are being instilled in building plans more frequently, as well as more attention offered to surface materials and touchless controls. The modes of transmission need to be overlaid in circulation zones to help schools stay safe, but also to efficiently operate with reduced occupancy and spacing.

Some of these areas being re-evaluated include:

  • Public spaces like the main entrance and front door
  • Elevators
  • Public restrooms
  • Instructional and assembly spaces
  • Amenity and support areas

The pandemic experience has served to show inequities in place and accelerate the introduction of different capabilities that were once developing trends. With hybrid learning moving to the forefront, we should all wonder how some of the remote learning lessons may take hold even when we move back to the traditional style of in-person learning.

Entry and security were more traditional forms of concern; however, now an expansive aspect of security with disease safety is presented. In newer school buildings with open corridors, there is a tension to be balanced with the need for some form of partition and proper social distancing.

Diverse Views of The Classroom

Alternative learning environments are an option that has become seemingly more realistic as our adaptation of “normal” continues to evolve. 2020 has shown us that there is opportunity for schooling to happen in diverse spaces. To see this disruption as an opportunity, conversions of underutilized real estate are being approached.

Retail malls and storefront office space are now seen as viable candidates for day care usage. Also, indoor/outdoor learning spaces are being embraced, even in areas not of a tropical climate. Research in sustainability shows that outcomes for students can be positively affected by better air and the quality of lighting, etc. This, in addition to form and function, become part of an array of issues that architects need to weigh equally.

The Entry Process Consideration

Generally, childcares require a more involved drop-off process with sign-in and escorting a child to the classroom. Now, for safety, parents are now not allowed in the building. There are two methods of drop-off permitted – childcare staff can meet parent in the parking lot as car pulls up, then perform health screening inspection while child is in the car, and then escort the child into building. Alternatively, parents can walk up to doors and check in the child and complete paperwork with screening questions. Teacher then escorts the child into the building.

Now in NJ, in response to freezing temperatures in the winter, enclosures are being developed for this “checkpoint table” to be more comfortable for staff yet remain open to air circulating.

Effective Division

Reduced group sizes are being seen. Classrooms with licensing for 20 children can only have 10 children, unless you are installing dividers for a maximum group size of ten.

Some methods of effective division include temporary plexiglass or even shower curtains to offer separation. Tying into building codes, when there are more permanent barrier solutions introduced, we must look back at requirements for egress. With childcare, any classroom with more than or equal to 10 children, there must be 2 forms of egress from that smaller space. In addition, we must look at licensing regulations, as more lavatories must be installed with the addition of permanent barriers.

Bringing it All Together

Day cares represent a unique setting – the inhabitants have a heightened rate of developing an infectious disease and are prescribed antibiotics more often and for longer durations than children who don’t attend childcare. The danger of sickness spreading also becomes a concern for adult caregivers as well—especially during the first year of interaction in these spaces regularly. The physical layout of day care centers must provide a means for proper hygiene and a consideration for each age groups’ specific needs. Through sessions like this discussion moderated by the AIA NJ Chapter, the area’s top minds are able to come together and brainstorm the best methods of safety. Thanks AIA for the thought-provoking forum towards improvement.