A major principle of good science facilities planning is to avoid building for a single curricular model. Since continued change in educational trends is inevitable, any plans for science space should allow as much flexibility as possible to avoid the expense and considerable inconvenience of reconfiguring the space later.
Traditionally, the high school program, served by a fully-equipped wing of science rooms, has emphasized divisions between departments. The departmentalized model for high schools has remained the norm because construction costs are reduced when water, gas and special ventilation systems are concentrated in a single area. But as schools have grown in recent years, educators have found that large class sizes are barriers to educational goals. Many high school programs have divided their large student bodies into smaller “houses” of 500 students or less. These operate as schools-within-the-school, with faculty teams teaching only the students in their own houses.
Each house has its own classrooms for social studies, English, mathematics, and other subjects. Equipping each house with its own science area presents a considerable challenge to cost-conscious planning teams since this normally requires that gas, water, and ventilation systems be replicated in several areas of the school.
One way schools have preserved the ability to use either departmentalized or “house” models, while keeping costs down and not sacrificing quality, is by placing their science facilities at the center of a “spoke” or pod configuration (see diagram). This arrangement makes it possible to locate either the houses or the separate departments in each wing with the science department clustered at the center. It also allows future staff to reorganize space to continue serving the student body.
Another important design consideration is clustering related facilities. Grouping science facilities together benefits both teaching and the sharing of equipment and resources. The trend toward integration with other subjects brings the additional advantage of coordinating related programs with portions of the science curriculum and energizing subjects such as mathematics and the applied sciences
In high school, science rooms are almost always specially designed, separate teaching spaces. As in middle schools, the increasing integration of science curricula makes it even more important to ensure that the school’s facilities do not limit the types of subjects and strategies that can be used. Given sufficient space, flexible furniture arrangements, and appropriate equipment, almost any type of science instruction can be possible in most spaces.
Some schools have designed generic laboratories that, with few exceptions, have everything necessary for any science course. This approach has the advantage of allowing curriculum changes and future enrollment growth that ay require changes in the allocation of space. Placing extra conduits for utilities in the floors and walls during construction is an easy way to provide additional flexibility for expansion and future improvements.
The two most commonly used models for science rooms are separate laboratory and classroom space and combination laboratory/classrooms. While an effective science room today is generally expected to accommodate work in all science disciplines, additional laboratories may be desired for specialized or advanced courses such as chemistry or physics that require special equipment, fixtures, ventilation, or other resources.
Class size is an important design factor because it helps determine the amount of space and number of workstations needed. To accommodate current technology needs and teaching practices, a good science room will generally require:
• a minimum of 4 m2 (45 ft2) per student for a stand-alone laboratory, 100 m2 (1,080 ft2) for a class of 24 students
• a minimum of 5 m2 (60 ft2) per student for a combination laboratory/classroom, 134 m2 (1,440 ft2) for a class of 24 students.
The 1990 National Science Teachers Association position statement on laboratory science recommends a maximum class size of 24 students in high school.
An additional space of 1.4 m2 (15 ft2) is needed for each computer station and 1.8 m2 (20 ft2) for a workstation to accommodate a student with disabilities. At least 0.9 m2 (10 ft2) per student is needed for teacher preparation space, equipment storage, and separate chemical storage. Space is also needed for longer-term student projects.
A ceiling height of 3 m (10 ft) is desirable for a science room. This is particularly important for classes in physics, where some investigations may require a high ceiling, and in chemistry, where an investigation may produce clouds of smoke. Using a projection screen that is 1.8 x 2.4 m (6 x 8 ft) won’t work well in a room with a ceiling less than 2.7 m (9 ft) high because tables and desks will block the lower portions of the screen. Under no circumstances should the classroom ceiling be lower than 2.4 m (8 ft).
For safety and flexibility, a rectangular room at least 9 m (30 ft) wide, without alcoves, is recommended. The room should have at least two exits and doorways that accommodate students with physical disabilities.
The Combination Laboratory/Classroom
The combination classroom and laboratory requires a larger room, but it has several advantages over a stand-alone laboratory, including providing maximum instructional options and the most flexible use of space. The combination laboratory/classroom is more in keeping with the best practice recommendations for science instruction where laboratory activities are freely intermingled with classroom instruction.
The two most popular arrangements are:
1. A room with fixed student workstations and a separate section for classroom instruction.
2. A room that has a flexible arrangement, with utilities at the perimeter and movable tables that can form various configurations for laboratory and classroom work.
When designing either kind of room, three key principles of room layout should be observed:
• All students face the teacher when they are in the classroom area.
• Sufficient classroom space is allocated to the students so they can work safely.
• During laboratory activities, the teacher can supervise the students easily and movement around the room is not impeded. Paths for egress are a vital safety factor and must be kept clear.
In all room arrangements, there should be a minimum of 1.2 m (4 ft) between the perimeter counters and the areas for general and group seating, and at least 1.2 m around each grouping of tables. In classroom format, provide a minimum of 2.4 m from the front wall to the first tables. The teacher will then be able to easily move around and have use of a table and equipment.
A classroom area and fixed workstations. Laboratory areas with fixed student work-stations allow the teacher to easily supervise and assist students. Free standing utility islands may serve as complete workstations for four or more students. If the room is large, the islands may be installed at one end of the room. An alternative is a utility island that provides power and utilities to movable laboratory tables that serve as the primary work surfaces when pulled up to the utilities. The latter arrangement permits more flexible use of space.
Installed workstations should always allow an aisle space of at least 1.2 m between the perimeter cabinets and the rows of students.
A popular design for fixed stations is the trifacial utility island (triple table hub), as shown in the diagram. Movable tables are drawn to the three longer sides of these six-sided islands, creating work areas for students who share large, deep sinks that they access from the three narrower sides. Gas, electrical outlets, and computer date wiring can be installed at the three longer sides adjacent to the tables. Each trifacial unit can accommodate three large tables (1220 x 1370 mm [48 x 54 in]) or six small tables (530 x 1370 mm [21 x 54 in]) or (610 x 1370 mm [24 x 54 in]), and thus provide laboratory work space for 12 students.
The tables may be combined and rearranged as necessary to permit activities required in the various disciplines. Tables are available with electrical “pigtails” and outlets that plug into the hub units providing power and data wiring to the far end of the table for computers and other electrical equipment.
Fixed rectangular stations with central sinks can be modified to provide a 1.8 m (6 ft) long work surface, but these sinks are hard to cover because the faucets are in the center of the table. Both types of workstations can be equipped with sockets for apparatus rods, if desired, and outlets for computer network connections. Various storage compartments for supplies and equipment can be installed beneath the counters of these stations.
The classroom portion of the room should be as flexible as possible and provide various arrangements for student seating. Desk and chair combinations, tablet arm chairs, or tables with chairs may be used. The laboratory tables from the trifacial units can be rearranged for the classroom seating, but moving the tables takes some time.
A flexible room arrangement. In the flexible laboratory/classroom, sinks and utilities are located on perimeter counters, and students use movable flat-topped laboratory tables for both classroom and laboratory activities. This design makes the most efficient use of space and renders the room available to a variety of uses. The flexible room is also more easily modified than a laboratory/classroom with fixed workstations or service islands.
Flat-topped tables used as student workstations allow multiple arrangements and combinations for laboratory work and small-group activities that would not be possible with sloping tops.
Two tables, each seating two students on a side, form a workstation when placed together against a counter with the longer table sides perpendicular to the counter. Each group of four students has a sink, a source of heat, such as gas or a hot plate, electric power for equipment and computers, and often, networking connections. The sinks should be installed so that when the tables are drawn up to the counters there is enough space between the
tables for students to easily access the sinks. Gas jets, if used, are between the sinks.
A surface-mounted “raceway” may be installed above the counter’s backsplash to bring in electric power and data outlets at regular intervals along the counter.
The following describes the needs of a flexible laboratory/classroom with movable tables and perimeter counters, sinks and utilities. It also applies to laboratories and laboratory/classrooms with fixed workstations.
Sinks. Sinks for student investigations should be fairly wide and deep (380 x 380 mm [15 x 15 in]) with swiveling gooseneck faucets that allow students to fill and clean large containers. A good rule of thumb is to provide one sink for four students. Resin sinks are recommended because they resist chemical corrosion; however, stainless steel sinks may be an acceptable money-saving alternative in a room used only for programs such as physics, where the use of corrosive chemicals is minimal. Several sinks should be equipped with dual eyewashes.
All sinks should have hot and cold water. This minimizes the need for separate heating facilities in many investigations and improves student hygiene. Schools should be mindful of the maximum temperature for hot water and keep it safely below the scalding point.
Check state and local regulations for hazardous materials to see if special installations are needed. If the program calls for corrosive chemicals, supply the teacher’s sink with an acid dilution trap. This trap is filled with limestone chips that neutralize acid before it enters the regular waste-piping system. A more effective but more expensive method of dealing with corrosive wastes is with an acid-resistant piping system and central acid dilution tank.
Faucets should be equipped with aerators. Serrated nozzles adopted for the attachment of hoses are an option, but they increase the pressure of the water causing splattering. Some of these can be unscrewed, but teachers often respond by attaching a length of rubber hose to them to alleviate the problem.
It is also an advantage to have a large, deep sink with hot and cold water and