The project of transforming an RSA building into a vibrant childcare center wasn’t without its challenges. See how Steve from Zones overcame all odds in just 6 weeks and on budget.
Transforming a car park in the Wellington suburb of Taita from tarmac territory to child care centre in just 6 weeks sounds like quite an undertaking. The old RSA building was under renovation to become an early learning centre and the car park was to become a playground.
For Zones Landscaping specialists Steve and Rochelle Strawbridge, the project wasn’t without its challenges. “The weather was one!” says Steve. “It was a very flat area so we had to ensure we had enough drainage to remove excess surface water from the site.” Then there were the different requirements for the under two-year-old and over two-year-old children. “We had to think about how to create zones for the kids in such a way that there weren’t any supervision issues and so that less confident children had their own areas.”
Steve and Rochelle had worked with BestStart project manager Arlene Troy previously to create new playgrounds and revamp existing ones. For the critical design process, they looked to Bay of Plenty based Zones landscape designer Nichola Vague whose CV includes a number of similar projects which had impressed the Strawbridges. Steve says the ‘remote’ working relationship went well. “Nichola was able to interpret the discussions and ideas from meetings with the client and put those cleverly into the overall design.”
For Nichola, the aim was to create a natural, integrated environment that responded well to the different age groups of the children. “It wasn’t about a playground as such but about creating a space where kids could be outside in a play environment. I wanted to push the idea of kids getting into nature, so, to make the environment engaging and interesting for them, I focused on gardens and plantings, different textures, art and sculpture.”
Arlene says she and Steve spent time on site discussing BestStart’s aspirations for the playground, “the type of area we wanted to create and our expectations for the finished product. Because Steve is familiar with the regulations for the playground development of our Early Learning Centres, we were able to ensure all areas were age-appropriate for all children.” Arlene found the duo professional “and they worked to the timeframe to complete the project.” Requirements also included areas for water play, sandpits, turf areas and a ‘whare’ type structure, purchased from a specialist supplier; many of the other elements were made on site.
The asphalt car park provided not just a physically hard environment but one with tricky shaped spaces, says Nichola. “It’s also in a very urban environment so creating the feel of nature was a challenge. I incorporated as much green space as I could, using things like Nikau palms which don’t take up much space in terms of root structure.” The design also included interesting sculptural elements such as Perspex work structures. If we needed to do a screen it became multi-purpose, children could paint on it and have visual connections to other spaces.”
The Early Learning Centre is effectively an all-weather environment with sheltered and open-air spaces and synthetic grass, says Steve. “In the past BestStart centres have used real grass but it doesn’t get a chance to grow, requires too much maintenance and becomes a mud bath over time.”
The project came in on the budget at $120,000 and, in spite of the weather, on time. The result, says Arlene, is an exciting outside environment which has areas that allow children to play as a group or take time out to relax on their own. “It’s a beautiful natural environment with lots of features including water, sand, carpentry, and areas to sit and read, or play with age-appropriate learning equipment. Children love the playground!”
For Steve and Rochelle there’s been real satisfaction in seeing the transformation from a car park to a vibrant play area where children have different spaces to develop. And for Nichola? “The most satisfying part is when you see kids playing in the spaces and enjoying themselves. Getting mucky and doing what kids should do. Challenging them.”
You might be interested in reading this: Council approval process for a low maintenance landscape design in Wellington
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