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Gas systems are used sparingly in today’s K-12 science programs; in fact, prior to a recent reconstruction of their science facilities, one Denver-area school shut off their gas system for a year to determine how often it was really needed. This school determined that a central gas system was not required as hot plates and gas burners with small butane bottles could do the job. If a natural gas system is provided, a central control valve should be provided so that the teacher can shut the system off when it is not in use. An emergency shut-off system that shuts off both the gas supply and electrical power to a lab/classroom should be provided with an emergency push-button near the primary means of egress. This system should have a keyed reset. All electrical outlets in science facilities should be protected by ground fault interrupters; this can be accomplished either by providing a ground fault interrupter breaker at the electrical distribution panel or having a ground fault protected outlet as the first outlet on the circuit,

Stools: In a combination lab/classroom there should be an area in which students can sit at a work surface and carry out class discussions or observe to a presentation; however, in the area in which lab investigations are carried out, students should be standing. Stools can be a significant safety hazard, causing tripping incidents and injury. Avoid having stools in the lab portion of the space.

ACCESSIBILITY

Integrate students with disabilities with their classmates in as many activities as possible. The Americans with Disabilities Act was passed in 1991, yet the design of science teaching spaces and equipment is still struggling to respond to the needs of disabled students. (Insert link to “Complying with Science” article) Many proposed solutions place the disabled student at a special work station on the perimeter of the lab/classroom, away from his or her classmates. A better approach would be to provide adaptable or adapted work stations among the standard work stations; using flexible furniture and equipment makes this task easier. The clearances required to navigate a wheelchair add significantly to the space requirements of a science lab/classroom: aisles should be a minimum of 36″ wide, meaning that fixed work stations should be spread apart. A standard wheelchair needs a five foot diameter circle in which to make a complete revolution, or a T-shaped space with at least four feet in each direction in which to back and fill to make a turn. Not all disabilities require the use of a wheelchair: hearing impaired students may need equipment to enhance their understanding of a lesson; visually impaired students may require Braille signage, knurled knobs on controls to indicate a hazard, and audio signaling as well as attention to the location of objects protruding from wall surfaces.

Safety equipment such as a safety shower or eyewash should be adapted for persons in wheelchairs by extending the pull rod for the shower so that it is not more than 54″ above the floor and lowering the eyewash basin so that the eye shower heads are not more than 34″ above the floor. Eyewash fountains mounted within cabinets should have an open area beneath them to allow the wheelchair to pull in beneath the eyewash, much as is required for sinks.