Mission, Goals, Administration and Policy
Head Start Design Guide

Using proven design standards helps meet important health and safety requirements for Head Start. This resource can be used by program directors and members of the agency’s facilities planning team.

The following is an excerpt from the Head Start Design Guide.

2.1 Program Goals and Objectives
2.2 Process
2.3 Standards
2.4 Center Management

This chapter describes the Head Start Bureau’s goals and objectives for center design and operation, the persons and processes involved in planning and designing the center, real estate management policies affecting center development, and standards with which design and operations must comply.

2.1 Program Goals and Objectives

An important goal of all Head Start programs is to offer the community an opportunity for quality child care services and programs in locally owned or controlled spaces. The Head Start center design must meet the needs of children, their parents, classroom personnel, service personnel, and administrators.

To achieve these objectives, HSB recommends that planners take the following steps:

  • Support the care of children by creating environments that allow staff to focus their efforts on nurturing and caring for children. The design should provide features that encourage strong, positive relationships between staff and children.
  • Create an environment that comfortably accommodates the needs of staff in order to attract and retain highly qualified people.
  • Design centers that are pleasing and will enhance the involvement of families and the children’s caregivers in the center.
  • Respond to local cultures, climate, and regional preferences in designing the center. Seek and consider the goals of parents, the sponsoring agency, and the governing board of directors.
  • Create a center environment that attests to Head Start’s high level of commitment to providing appropriate, well-planned and beautiful environments for children of the community. The appearance and functional arrangement of the center should enhance the center’s assets.
  • Design “through the eyes of a child” with sensitivity to children’s scale. Consider how the children will use the space, what they will see from their perspective, and what kind of experience they will have in the environment.
  • Provide an intriguing environment with features and literal “themes” that reflect the community and its culture. For example, tribal Head Start programs may provide language activities, legends, and dance activities, use traditional symbols for their wall decorations, or use traditional colors, songs, and music during their “circle” activities.
  • Size the classroom to accommodate recommended group sizes and adult-to-child ratios. The design should use space efficiently and incorporate features such as strategically situated storage.
  • Provide durable and cost effective materials and design details. Designers should consider the intense use a center receives and should be particularly sensitive to the life cycle cost of materials.
  • Establish a distinctly child-oriented environment within a controlled facility. The impression created by the design should be the antithesis of a typical institutional setting. The center should “feel like home” for the child.
  • Create an accessible center for the disabled, staff, parents and children and emphasize cost effectiveness. Refer to Appendix A for accessibility requirements.
  • Provide a healthful indoor and outdoor environment.

2.2 Process

Through experience with design and construction, the Head Start Bureau has learned that grantee or delegate involvement during initial planning at the beginning of the design process is a valuable investment that can ensure an excellent and cost effective result.

The process starts with planning and pre-design stages and continues through the design concept. The early stages of design, leading up to the concept, form the foundation for functional design.

A well-designed center requires an array of functional and aesthetic requirements in a relatively small space and must satisfy a wide range of customers. Therefore, the design process for new construction or major center renovation/expansions should begin with a high level of communication.

To accommodate this need, the Head Start Bureau recommends that projects start with a “design workshop.” The design workshop also can be associated with a partnering session, which can be highly effective in clarifying roles and responsibilities. For example, the partnering session can result in a written charter signed by attendees who commit themselves to taking clearly defined collaborative steps.

2.3 Standards

Best practice suggests that Head Start center design comply with the following guidelines:

  • Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards (UFAS) and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The design must accommodate children and adults with disabilities. (Refer to Accessibility Standards in Appendix A.)
  • Historic Preservation Act. Modification of historic buildings or buildings deemed eligible for the National Register of Historic Places must follow specific guidelines. The guidelines affect a structure with the following characteristics:
  • At least fifty years old (or will be when the renovation is completed).
  • Deemed to be exemplary of a particular style.
  • Historically significant in terms of events related to the building.
  • Comprehensive Procurement Guideline (CPG), US EPA, Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response. Through this document, EPA designates items that must contain recycled content when purchased by federal, state, and local agencies, or by government contractors using appropriated federal funds. Under E.O. 13101 EPA is required to update the CPG every 2 years.
  • The Energy Policy Act of 1992. The center design should minimize energy use. It should use the life-cycle costing methodology in estimating and comparing investment decisions involving capital and operating costs. Mechanical systems and introduction of features, such as overhangs to diminish energy use, are examples of such considerations.
  • Head Start centers must comply with state and local licensing regulations and any other applicable standards.
  • In addition, there should be discussions about including sustainable features in the design during the initial stages of the project. This emphasis on non-toxic green building is explained further in Appendix B.

2.4 Center Management

The Head Start Bureau does not directly operate Head Start centers. Instead, each Head Start program is responsible for the day-to-day management and operation of the center.

In addition, a Policy Council is established for the purpose of providing information to parents and other community members and engaging them in the operation of the center. The Policy Council can be a valuable resource for comments on center design.

Appendix C includes contact information for the Administration on Children, Youth and Families’ Head Start Bureau and Regional Offices.

"Mission, Goals, Administration and Policy." Head Start Design Guide. Second Edition. HHS/ACF/ACYF/HSB. 2005. English.

Last Reviewed: July 2010

Last Updated: October 1, 2014