Centralize or decentralize science? Many new schools, in an attempt to break down the apparent size of a large student body into smaller, more student-friendly groups, have chosen to create “houses” within the larger school. These houses may have a particular specialty, such as fine arts, world affairs, business, etc., or be identical in focus. Some recent designs have created smaller “schools within the school” with totally self-contained educational programs, facilities and administrative staffs. When these “houses” are physically separated, how should one deal with the extensive and complex spaces for science?

Completely separate science facilities for each “house” increases first cost and long-term operating and maintenance costs and lessens the serendipitous exchanges among science faculty colleagues and between science faculty and students, since the science faculty is now broken into smaller, separated groups. First costs increase because separate, disbursed storage of equipment and supplies often requires duplicating equipment that might have easily been shared in a more centralized arrangement (a science chair recently related that their new school had spent $100,000 extra the first year in duplicated equipment). Science facilities have expensive plumbing electrical and ventilation (HVAC) requirements and resulting costs that can be minimized when centralized, but increase with duplication when decentralized. Long-term operating and maintenance costs increase because, with multiple HVAC systems, more energy is expended in heating, cooling and ventilating the science areas, and multiple machines increase the need for maintenance.

The “house” concept can still be implemented with centralized science facilities. The individual houses can radiate outward from the science core. Individual science facilities for each “house” can still be directly connected to the house they serve, but storage, expensive utility systems, and faculty offices can all be adjacent to one another, saving both first and long-term costs and increasing collegial contact among colleagues and with students.

Sustainable design. Making the most of the earth’s limited resources while building facilities that minimize their impact on the environment is a concept that relates strongly to science education. School facilities can be excellent candidates for sustainable design or what’s commonly known as “green architecture”. Daylighting, natural ventilation, capturing and reusing rainwater, energy conservation, natural waste treatment, recycling materials, and constructing facilities from renewable resources are just a few of the many ways in which new science facilities can improve our environment while also being active teaching experiences for the students that inhabit them. Some examples of sustainable design in school science facilities include linoleum flooring laid in an educational design (as opposed to vinyl flooring). Electrical power generation using photocells, a windmill, or a small generator on a dam at the outflow of a pond, equipping spaces with motion detectors that shut off lights when the space is vacant and connecting all power using devices to a central meter indicating electricity usage can teach students about power generation, power usage, and conservation.