Science facilities are often designed for electrical plug loads of 8-12 watts/square foot (wsf) while normal classroom space is designed for 0.5 – 1.0 wsf. Recent analysis of complex laboratory buildings indicates that actual plug loads are in the 2.5 – 4.0 wsf range. The one high school science area in which plug loads might be on the high end of this scale is in Physics. Designing the electrical system in the science area for the appropriate electrical plug loads can ensure that adequate power is available where needed while not wasting capital costs on an over designed power supply system.
Champions needed: In order for the new or renovated science facilities to be all that they need to be, someone with clout needs to be the “champion” for science. This person could be the science chair, the district science supervisor, the district’s assistant superintendent for curriculum, or the superintendent. There will be numerous times during the planning, design and construction process when the needs of the science facilities will be challenged: when budgets are set, when the initial designs are estimated and seem to be over budget, when bids are received and the project is really over budget, and when unforeseen site conditions cause costs not anticipated in the budget. Since science facilities are significantly more costly than other parts of a school, they will be among the first to be examined for cost savings. The champion must be out in front, waving the flag, leading the cheers and protecting the science facility program and design because, once these facilities are built, they will be the school’s science facilities for the next 30-50 years. Science facilities that are well thought-out, well designed for functionality, flexibility and safety, and consider both initial and long-term costs should have built into them the ammunition needed to fight off the cost cutters; however, unless there is a champion for science, many of these key concepts may be ignored when money is tight.
Of primary concern to educators should be the safety of the students, faculty and other occupants of the facilities in which they teach. As hands-on science holds the possibility of being significantly more dangerous than a lecture-type history class, the planning, design and equipping of science facilities should concentrate on safety first.
Space: The most important factor in science classroom safety is the amount of space provided per student. Recent research confirms that the “mishap” rate in science classrooms increases as both the total amount of space and the space per student. This should be intuitive since physical interaction among students increases as the space becomes smaller. Further, with the inclusion of students with disabilities in the mainstream classroom, clearances between fixed objects must be greater. For example, the ADA Accessibility Guidelines for Buildings indicates that the minimum clear aisle width that a person in a wheelchair can successfully negotiate is 32″; many existing science labs have fixed lab benches that are 24″ to 30″ apart. The NSTA Guide to School Science Facilities recommends minimum areas per student in a science facility.