Canberra College Cares provides a future for young parents and their children

The Canberra College Cares facility is designed to provide a harmonious blend of occupant wellness, security, and specialised educational capabilities, to enable students with children to continue their education, and provide realistic job outcomes.

Students range from early teens to mid twenties, and their children are pre-birth to school age. The facility provides for the comfort, security and safety needs of this cohort, along with their educational requirements.

Pregnant and parenting students face enormous challenges in continuing their education. Coping with the added responsibility and demands on their time makes attending school an incredibly difficult task. Jan Marshall, is the Deputy Principal and coordinator of the CCCares program, and she has long championed the welfare of these students, providing the necessary drive and momentum that helped the previous facility succeed.

“We began in the early 2000’s when we had a facility that catered for students who were not achieving success in the mainstream school system,” says Marshall. “What we found was that the amount of young pregnant women who were being referred to the program or coming to us for support grew rapidly – much faster than we expected.”

The success of the program meant the facility soon exceeded capacity, creating the need for a bespoke building that was designed to support and enable the students and staff.

“The old premises was so successful that we outgrew it,” says Marshall. “We have constant enrolments and welcome any student who wants to join us on the same day, and they often stay with us for several years. This means that we have to be very flexible with our programme, and the facility needs to be able to cope with that.”

Government Recognition

The ACT government recognised that the students who used the programme were taking the opportunities that were presented to them, and approved the plan to build a state of the art facility that supported the needs of parenting students, and their child.

The space is designed to generate a feeling of “belonging” for students, creating a safe and supportive space that they can feel connected to. Providing students with a sense of ownership and contribution is a method to create this belonging.

“Each student is responsible for various tasks along with their studies,” says Marshall. “They might clean an area, work in the café or spend some time with the children in the childcare section. This is in addition to their studies, and encourages them to develop a balance between work and parenting.”

A collaborative design

With such a unique facility, creating a design that supported and enabled the students and their children was more than a matter of providing a functional building. Consultation and collaboration between service providers, the client and the students was an important factor in developing a bespoke facility.

“We spent a lot of time consulting with staff and students,” says Shoba Cole, Senior Architect at May + Russell Architects. “We realised that we had to create a relatable – not institutional – feel to the building design. We wanted to create a funky and functional space for the occupants to enjoy and feel a sense of belonging and ownership. NDY really helped us to create a great space, including the lighting which was a very unique installation format.”

May + Russell also provided a unique ceiling design that is highly decorative, but still supports the function of the space. “The ceiling was very complex and dynamic,” says Sherry Xu, NDY’s lead engineer on the project. “Ceiling height varies throughout the building, so May + Russell collaborated with us to provide extensive coordination of services in the ceiling.

“Access to services above the ceiling was also coordinated between architects and engineers to minimise number of access panels required, ensuring the complex ceiling features were highlighted, and that the functional aspects didn’t detract from the visual appeal.”

The lighting formed an integral part of the wellness goals of the fitout, providing the sense of comfort and blending natural and artificial light to put occupants at ease. Vivid colours and shapes were blended with the ambitious lighting designs to create a vibrant and unique space.

“The building is vibrant and alive,” adds Marshall. “At any time, we have music in the background from jazz through to Disney music, there’s beautiful smells coming from the kitchen and coffee machine, and there’s kids laughter following you wherever you go around the building. It’s just a lovely place to spend your day.”

One building, three spaces

The building is divided into learning sections, study areas and the children’s space.

The learning area incorporated the study spaces, as well as purpose built facilities for specific learning disciplines, such as Hair and Beauty salons, Hospitality kitchens and a café.

The study area is an open workspace for students to work collaboratively or on their own, in a way that is comfortable for them.

The third area is the children’s space. This is the unique space that provides the students with the support facilities that they need, such as integrated childcare, three playrooms for different aged children, a medical suite for visiting health care professionals rooms and a shared dining area. This space had to function as a welcoming and nurturing environment to the children, while ensuring that they are kept safe and secure during their parent’s class times.

Empowering the facility

Construction of the new building provided several challenges. The most difficult obstacle involved providing the necessary power to the building. The Canberra College substation was not up to the task of handling the extra load required from the new building, with the long cable distance and voltage drop causing problems with the building’s power supply.

“The substation was a challenge,” says Sherry Xu. “The substation wasn’t putting enough voltage through to the building, so we worked with the electricity supplier to get the substation voltage upgraded, and the building now has a reliable power supply.”

The upgraded electrical infrastructure also benefitted the entire campus, providing a power supply that could handle the maximum load, with additional capacity.

Safe and secure

Security was a major factor in the building, both to protect children from accessing potentially dangerous areas, and ensuring that only authorised people had access to the space.

“When children are involved, safety is a primary consideration, says Xu. “We worked with the consultants and CC Cares to design a system that provides a secure environment, without feeling like it was a restrictive institution.

“Balancing the security aspect with a pleasant feel was a tough challenge, but the ‘airlock’ style entry and the need to be admitted from the inside were integrated into the design in a way that didn’t detract from the welcoming feel of the entrance area.”

The end result it a well-appointed facility that feels like a home to staff and students. The benefits to the students are immense, offering them the opportunity to develop marketable skills in a supportive environment, as they find the balance between a career and family life.

Key collaborative team

Client ACT Government Education Directorate
Architect Shoba Cole from May + Russell Architects
Builder Richard Crookes
Structural and Civil Engineer Mott MacDonald
Engineering Services NDY
Superintendent Xact Project Consultants (Lyndell Roberts)


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