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blogpost – expert or activist

Today, our office finished our fourth child care project in four years. With any other project type, this would clearly market our firm as specialists, experts. However, with this project type, there is something really wrong, and I don’t think it’s us. Here’s our track record:

1) 2009, Wake County – Client opened the facility before she hired us, was successful until she was shut down for not having a building permit. We did drawings, met with the county. She gave up, closed down, left the country, left parents stranded.

2) 2010, Raleigh – Change of use from a house to a church with childcare. Cost of the design and permit process would be about 4x the construction cost. Client put the project “on hold,” continues to live in the house.

3) 2011, Chatham County – Home child care. Prepared full drawing set, filled out many forms, endured a pejorative five-month Zoning process with extra sessions, and learned today that drawings and facility improvements may or may not be required.

4) 2012, Raleigh – Urban, commercial facility, permit documents fully prepared. Client’s phone has been cut off, hasn’t been to my office in weeks.

Child care licensing endures every known regulatory commission, from local to federal levels and many individual departments. As an architecture office, we’re smart – we’re good at adhering to codes, we read lots of codes, and we can demonstrate compliance for anything you can put into law. Our clients are individuals who are well trained in child care, loved by parents, who care deeply for children around them and are committed to a child’s personal welfare.

However, despite our significant experience, by which I mean hundreds of hours reviewing facilities, researching on the phone, on the internet, on the street, presentations and arguments in official meeting rooms at every level, we are left feeling entirely unsuccessful. Opening a child care facility is more complicated than opening a restaurant, a doctor’s office, a mall, a large church, and certainly more complicated than opening the business offices where these laws are written.

And, it’s unfortunate.

In the past few years, we have seen another pattern for child care: large assembly facilities opened as bars at night and youth centers during the day. These are urban centers, these are our clients. Again, the client comes to us with good intentions. It’s a toss-up which program item comes to the conversation first, but it follows one of two patterns:

1) “I want to do something for this community, the kids need someplace to go to keep them off the streets.” Me: it will cost a lot of money. “We’ll have events on nights and weekends to raise money.”

2) “I want to open a nightclub.” Me: it will cost a lot of money. “Well, maybe we’ll use it for the kids during the day.”

These issues are bigger than our little office. Regulation is good, and it matters. Child care is an obvious need for working parents in the city and in suburbs, and every parent I know is a working parent. Child care is a broad need, from infant care through job training. Good intentions can be focused by good regulation and investment levels.

From what we see, in the current regulation environment, child care is really hard for the individual to pull off, and I’m not yet convinced that it’s not impossible. Commercial child care appears only practical to the large corporate business models. And I’m afraid that model cannot exist for the kids and parents who need it most in difficult environments.

Andy Osterlund AIA | LEED AP
Andrew Osterlund, Architect, PLLC
19 W Hargett Street, Suite 700-A | Raleigh, NC 27601
(919) 889 6823 | | TWITTER: aoarch

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Osterlund Architects is a full-service architecture and interior design firm, committed to our clients and their work from concept through construction, and through to their next opportunity. Our firm has expertise in all project phases, including programming, pre-design and planning through construction administration and closeout, as well as interior design, including furniture, fixtures and equipment (FFE) services.

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