News / Education

New kindergarten for Albert Street to plug childcare gap

Brunswick area faces shortfall of 313 childcare places by 2029 without major investment

An artist’s impression of the proposed new childcare centre in Albert Street.

Mark Phillips

A NEW early childhood hub will be built in Brunswick at a cost of $11.5 million as the area faces a kindergarten crunch in the next few years. 

Merri-bek Council has endorsed a draft proposal for the construction of the new combined childcare and maternal health centre in Albert Street as existing facilities in Brunswick struggle to meet growing demand. 

The centre, to be built on council-owned land next to Gilpin Park, would provide 138 children’s places and allow the relocation of existing childcare services in Tinning and Mitchell streets, along with a maternal child health centre in Victoria Street in Brunswick West. It would open in 2026.

Progress of the project is dependent on the council securing a one-off, time-sensitive $3.7 million grant this financial year from the Victorian School Building Authority. 

The need for a new centre has been identified to cope with increasing childcare and kindergarten numbers across Merri-bek over coming years, with the Brunswick area forecast to have a shortfall of 313 kindergarten places by the end of this decade if no action is taken. 

Building consultants have also advised the council that both the Tinning Street and Mitchell Street childcare centres, which are in weatherboard houses built in the late-19th and early-20th centuries, will become unusable within five years without significant maintenance costing about $300,000 over that time. 

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The Albert Street project was approved by Merri-bek Council this month and will be the first of several new childcare centres that must be built over the next few years. 

“We don’t have enough childcare places, that’s a fact,” said Brunswick-based Councillor Lambros Tapinos. 

“We need to start building more facilities, we need to start restoring some of our dilapidated facilities or our facilities that are not up to standard and need renewal, so the investment [required] is significant … We’re falling behind and we need to get this done and we need to deliver a couple more of these to keep up with demand and with the growing population which includes young families in our city.” 

Draft plans for the new centre show two childcare rooms for 24 children each and two nurseries for a total of 20 children on its ground floor, along with three consulting rooms for maternal child health nurses. 

On the second floor would be three kindergarten rooms for 22 children each, and several meeting and staff rooms. 

Outdoor play areas would be located on both floors and there would also be on-site car parking. 

The early childhood education programs would continue to be operated by Moreland Community Child Care Centres, which currently manages the centres at Tinning and Mitchell streets. Annual maintenance costs for each of those centres are about $30,000 and the project would allow them to be consolidated under the one roof in Albert Street in a modern fit-for-purpose building. 

The 2000 square metre site at 346 Albert Street is owned by the council and an ageing timber building is leased to Playgroup Victoria, a not-for-profit organisation. 

The overall cost of the project is currently projected at $11.52 million, partly funded through the $3.7 million from the state government. 

The council’s contribution of $7.82 million would be partly recouped through the sale of the current properties in Tinning, Mitchell and Victoria streets for at least $3.1 million. 

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Kindergarten numbers in Brunswick are forecast to increase rapidly over the next few years because of Victorian government reforms to make 15-hours a week of free kindergarten available to all three-year-olds and to double the hours for four-year-olds to 30 hours a week. 

To help achieve these goals, the state government has committed to funding co-contributions of $10.7 million towards 11 new and expanded kindergartens across Merri-bek over the next few years. 

According to a kindergarten infrastructure services plan prepared by the former Moreland Council in 2021, Brunswick, Brunswick East and Brunswick West will experience 142% growth in demand for three and four-year-old kindergarten places this decade. 

In 2021, there were 580 kindergarten places in the three suburbs, which has grown to 850 this year, leaving a shortfall of 43 places. By the end of the decade, without significant investment in childcare services, there will be only 1091 places for 1404 children, according to forecasted growth of demand in the 2021 plan. 

Moreland Community Child Care Centres did not respond to requests for comment.

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