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Builders of New Early Childhood Services to Face an Incompatible Situation

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A significant problem is looming that will increase costs for builders of new early childhood centres and create headaches for everyone in them (children and adults alike).  

Dr Stuart McLaren whose research on the effects of noise in ECE has been published by ChildForum, attended a consultation seminar at the Dept of Building and Housing on the NZ Building Code on the 21st Sept 2010. 

He learnt that acoustical criteria for classrooms and learning spaces had been dropped from the proposed G6 amendment to the NZ Building Code currently out for public consultation. “This is despite extensive work and resources put into the development of these criteria and a very favourable response to its inclusion, in the early consultation stages”, says Dr McLaren.

building acoustics in early childhood settingsWhat this means is that new buildings for early childhood services can go up, that later may be identified as not being in compliance with education regulations and licensing criteria. The building code does not include acoustical standards for learning spaces such as early childhood services.

Unlike schools which are mostly owned by the State, nearly all early childhood centres are community or privately owned and so the cost of retrofitting to meet acoustical standards is meet by communities and owners.

“It’s a shame to spend money on putting in a nice ceiling for example, and then later have to purchase and stick acoustic tiles on top of it”, says Dr McLaren.

Owners and communities face an incompatible situation where a new centre does not have to meet a minimum acoustical standard to be built, but the 2008 early childhood regulations and licensing criteria specifically require appropriate noise control. 

The relevant legislation is as follows:

Regulation 45* Premises and facilities standard: general requires

 (1) The premises and facilities standard: general is the standard that requires every licensed service provider to whom this regulation applies—

(a)  to use premises and facilities that, having regard to the number and age range of the children attending the premises, provide sufficient and suitable space for a range of activities, facilities for food preparation, eating, sleeping, storage, toileting, and washing, and sufficient and suitable heating, lighting, noise control, ventilation, and equipment to support—  

And the relevant Licensing Criteria are: 

PF 1 – The design and layout of the premises is to include quiet spaces for all new services (and a 10 year lead in) for existing services.

PF 12 - Parts of the building or buildings used by children have …..  acoustic absorption materials if necessary to reduce noise levels that may negatively affect children’s learning or wellbeing.

Regulations 46* Health and Safety Practices Standard; General requires

every licensed service provider to whom this regulation applies to:

  • Take all reasonable steps to promote the good health and safety of children enrolled in the service.

And Criteria 15 for the Health and Safety Practices Standards is:

All practicable steps are taken to ensure that noise levels do not unduly interfere with normal speech and/or communication or cause any child attending distress or harm.

The Ministry of Education, The Education Review Office (ERO) and the Regional Public Health Services around New Zealand apply this legislation.  A new centre at the time of requesting a full license or during a review by the ERO could be found to be excessively noisy and be required to do some sort of retrofitting of acoustic treatment. 

The lack of an acoustic standard in the Building code is, in effect, committing early childhood centres to a clean-up acoustically, which will be expensive and disruptive when it should have been done as part of the initial construction says Dr McLaren.

In one recently established centre, where full acoustical treatment was voluntarily incorporated as part of the construction, subsequent evaluations (by Dr McLaren) of noise levels and the acoustical environment showed outstanding results with benefits for adults and children.

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