Design-Build & Education Centers: Reducing Build Costs & Improving Childcare Facility Safety

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There’s never been a better time to build a new childcare and education facility. However, there are several obstacles every potential owner needs to understand before they build. 

Unlike other commercial buildings, childcare and education buildings have specific and unique design requirements.  You’ll need to meet a set of exacting standards, including highly specific city and county municipality regulations, special licensing requirements, and a host of safety measures not commonly associated with other commercial buildings. 

We put together this helpful guide to illustrate how the design-build project delivery method can help you shorten your build timeline, avoid surprises and unnecessary costs, and mitigate risks associated with rising material costs and supply chain challenges. 

If you have questions about anything you read, or you’d like to learn how Metrolina Builders can help design and construct your next education or childcare facility, be sure to reach out.

- Matt Williams, Third-Generation Owner

An Overview of the Design-Build Process

The success of your design and construction can be boiled down to five critical steps. We’ll dig into deeper detail later in the guide, but let’s start by taking a look at the process as a whole:  

  • Step 1: Determining market demand
  • Step 2: Calculating your budget 
  • Step 3: Site selection
  • Step 4: Design and permitting
  • Step 5: Constructing your childcare and education facility

Your first step is one of the most critical decisions you can make, selecting which approach you’ll take to the building process.

Why Design-Build is the Best for Childcare & Education Facilities

Typically, one can go one of two routes: 1) the traditional “plan-and-spec” approach and 2) the “design-build” project delivery method — Metrolina Builder’s tested and approved approach.
Before making your selection, you should consider the following.

Plan-and-spec: an outdated approach to building 

With the plan-and-spec method, owners traditionally began by hiring a design team (architect, civil, mechanical, electrical, plumbing, structural engineer, etc.) and work with them to create & develop construction documents & plans.

This means the owner must maintain a separate contract for each team member, as well as the General Contractor, who won’t be involved until after the design is complete, with each entity working in their own silo, without collaboration amongst the team.  More importantly, the owner will not have an accurate understanding of the real construction costs until months into the process and after spending significant money on design and construction drawings.

Once designs are complete, owners will need to independently solicit bids from multiple contractors based solely on the drawings. If pricing comes back higher than anticipated, owners are left to pay unnecessary costs, face potential delays, or abandon the project entirely.

Design-build: your all-in-one solution for building education & childcare

With the design-build delivery method, the owner works with one team, under one contract, with one primary contact leading the project team: the design-builder. This method ensures that there is a shared vision from beginning to end, with all the important team members assembled from the onset, working together to achieve your goals. 

The design-build approach is gaining in popularity, as it’s been found to shorten timelines, reduce risk, lower overall costs, and remove many of the hurdles that owners may face.

Design-build drives synergy by allowing multiple project steps to take place simultaneously. Many front-end construction functions, such as schedule development, shop drawings, material purchasing, and manpower preparation can begin while the final design documents & permits are being completed.  

Design-builders can provide you with early & accurate project budgets, recommend design choices that might lower your costs, and help you navigate potential supply-side shortages or upcoming price increases. 

Let’s dive a little deeper into how the design-build process can help improve each of the five key steps that are necessary for a successful build.

Step 1: Determine the Market Demand

Without Metrolina Builders

If you’re going the traditional “plan and spec” route, one of your first steps should be hiring a feasibility consultant to help you determine market demand. Just keep in mind, not all feasibility studies are created equal.  

If you’re going it alone, you’ll be limited by the tools at your disposal. Tracking down the size and scale of your competitors on resources like Google Maps can be very time-consuming and leave you with little more than a best-guess estimate of critical data, like square footage. 

Alternatively, you can work with county tax appraisers, track down parcel ID numbers, and conduct additional research to discover any potential updates that might not be accurately represented in the records.

Finally, you’ll need to identify the locations of your competitors, the size of their facility, enrollment costs, and registration rates.  

This can quickly become a guessing game and can easily lead to mistakes.

With Metrolina Builders

Our team consists of seasoned experts who have built million of square feet in the Carolinas alone. We have our pulse on the market and use the most accurate market data available to help our clients:

  • Identify competitor locations & occupancy 
  • Calculate the square footage of competitor locations 
  • Determine occupancy levels of competitive properties 
  • Conduct comprehensive due diligence

Your Guide to Reducing Costs & Improving Safety

Step 2: Calculating Your Budget

Without Metrolina Builders

The next, and possibly most important step, is to calculate your budget. Typically, owners turn to architects for historical cost information — but rapidly changing material pricing and supply-chain disruptions have made historical cost information irrelevant.

The cost of the actual building is only one piece of the overall project cost.  Land costs, site development costs, water & sewer taps, permits and design fees are all important components of understanding your true cost to build.  Without a design-builder or general contractor involved early, it is extremely difficult for an owner to have an accurate budget for their project until after the design is complete.

With Metrolina Builders

When you hire Metrolina Builders, we take care of the most stressful and time-consuming coordination of the design team, leaving you with only one relationship & contract to manage. 

We can help drive down costs, navigate potential pitfalls and reduce redundant & unnecessary work by using our holistic design-build approach. We can provide you with a complete turnkey solution, bringing all of the necessary team members together, generating accurate preliminary estimates, cost savings recommendations during design, and comfort knowing that we have eliminated costly surprises and generated a design that can be built for your budget.

We can also engage all of the necessary consultants involved with developing your project, including surveyors and geotechnical firms.

With design-build, the client is only at risk of going over budget if they decide to expand the scale of the project after development has already begun.

Step 3: Site Selection

Without Metrolina Builders

Site selection is absolutely critical for the success of your next build.

 Local jurisdictions' zoning laws must be followed very carefully, as well as many additional safety requirements & zoning restrictions childcare facilities must follow. 

After identifying the proper zoning classifications, the owner will have to review potential facility sites. That requires the owner to hire a local commercial realtor and contractor who specializes in education & childcare in order to determine what the cost of development would be across multiple sites. 

You’ll also need to consider traffic flow, how much parking will your facility need, and where’s the ideal location to maximize your investment.

With Metrolina Builders

Securing the right piece of real estate is necessary for project success, and we’ll help you select the ideal property, calculate your space needs, and determine the optimal building size and requirements. 

This process often includes organizing, managing, and executing the following tasks on behalf of our clients: 

  • Site Analysis / Evaluation
  • Due Diligence
  • Geotechnical and Survey
  • Programming
  • Master Planning
  • Conceptual Design
  • Budget Development
  • Rezoning

Step 4: Design & Permitting

Without Metrolina Builders

Design & permitting requires architects, engineers, and contractors to stay on the same page, and it can quickly become one of the most frustrating tasks for owners. An amazing design is great; unfortunately, the designer might fail to account for modernized building systems and fluctuating material costs. 

This puts the owner at a significant disadvantage, facing unnecessary costs, avoidable delays, and pricey mistakes.

With Metrolina Builders 

Metrolina Builders works as a one-stop shop for design, construction, project management, and everything in between. We help ensure necessary permits are obtained, surprise pitfalls are avoided, and your build is completed on time and within budget. 

Some of our pre-construction services include:

  • Design / Engineering Coordination
  • Building Systems Evaluation
  • Constructability Review / Conflict Resolution
  • Logistics Planning
  • Subcontractor / Vendor Integration
  • Value Engineering
  • Preliminary Budgets/Estimates
  • Preliminary Scheduling
  • Subcontractor Solicitation / Evaluation
  • Estimating
  • Permit Coordination

Step 5: Building Your Childcare and Education Facility

Without Metrolina Builders

Careful planning can lead to a smooth execution, however, the traditional build-and-spec approach often comes with surprise costs. Getting the project back on track can quickly become an extremely time-consuming, stressful, and costly process to remediate. 

For example, if design plans call for a certain HVAC model, and that unit is facing a 6-month delay, it can throw your entire project into jeopardy. That’s why it’s best to work with a qualified design-build contractor who can identify potential supply-side issues early on.

With Metrolina Builders

Our experts have been constructing childcare and education centers for more than 50 years, and we’re here to help with each step of your construction phase, including:

  • Site Work
  • Core and Shell
  • Tenant Improvements
  • Scheduling
  • Project Management
  • Cost Controls
  • Subcontractor Management
  • Quality Control
  • Safety Compliance
  • Submittal Management
  • Inspections Management
  • Project Closeout

Ready to get started? Contact us today


There’s never been a better time to build a new childcare and education facility. However, there are several obstacles every potential owner needs to understand before they build. 


Your Guide to Reducing Costs & Improving Safety

Examples Of Our Work

Developing an education or childcare facility can be a difficult and overwhelming process, even for experienced operators. City and municipality regulations and licensing requirements are highly specific for these facilities, and are also different from typical commercial buildings.  Metrolina Builders’ extensive experience in the design and construction of these facilities has made us a trusted resource for daycares, preschools, public/private/charter schools, and religious institutions developing educational and recreation spaces.  

Our team is proficient in guiding the design, architecture, engineering, permitting, and construction phases to provide constant control over costs and schedules in order to deliver a quality, safe, and engaging space for children to learn. Whether it’s designing a new space for an independently operated facility, or adapting prototype plans for a national franchise so that we can provide you with the most cost effective design specific to your location, we’re here to help you get the job done right.

What Customers Are Saying

“I just completed the walk-through of this project and it was probably the easiest walk-through I’ve ever done on a project, which is a testament to Metrolina and your project team. This was a very challenging project and you stuck with us through it all, so I wanted to share that praise with you and say thank you for a job well done.”

Brent Wright
Belmont Mills Storage

Frequently asked questions about constructing Education & Childcare facilities

How do education & childcare facilities differ from other forms of real estate investments?

Childcare facilities and education centers face more regulations and rules than most forms of commercial real estate investments — from special safety considerations to local and state regulations. Additionally, ongoing and increasing demand for childcare services makes it an investment that’s more recession-proof than most.

What are the typical costs associated with building an education & childcare facility?

Costs for building a childcare or education facility can vary greatly. The national average for building a primary or secondary school building costs around $327 per square foot, while rooms like laboratories average around $800 per square foot. 

The good news is, you can save between 10%-20% by hiring a qualified design builder like Metrolina Builders.

Why do parents select an education & childcare facility?

Parents and students select an education center based on many criteria, from star ratings to amenities and areas of focus. However, one of the most important factors is location — with most preferring locations close to either home or work.

Who uses child care centers?

Nearly 60% of working parents rely on childcare centers for children aged 5 and under. That adds up to around 6.38 million parents across the nation. Not to mention, 32% of all stay-at-home mothers say they would reenter the workforce if childcare was more readily available.

What can you tell me about equipment costs for my education & childcare facilities?

The state of education is always changing. On average your standard childcare facility requires owners to spend around $2,500 on equipment, and an additional $2,400-$3,600 for supplies. For advanced learning labs and post-secondary education, the costs are much higher.

What safety requirements must education & childcare providers follow?

Safety is the number one priority when it comes to any childcare facility. Childcare providers are held to stricter safety standards than traditional retail spaces. This includes individual exits for classrooms, alarms on all doors leading outside, installing a  voice evacuation system (VES) over standard fire alarms, and more.

How do I get started?

Are you looking to partner with Metrolina Builders? Just click the “Ready to Talk?” button, to discover why we’re trusted by more than a thousand North and South Carolina owners and investors.