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What You Don’t See Can Hurt You

A critical space for safe science education is often undersized or poorly designed in today’s new schools: the prep and storage space.

A guide to planning adequate and safe science prep and storage spaces.

Central Prep & Storage Room

Central Prep & Storage Room

While more and more science teaching spaces are designed following the recommendations of the NSTA Guide to Planning School Science Facilities, as combined lab/classrooms sized for 24 students at 60 sq. ft. per person, prep and equipment and chemical storage spaces are often neglected and provided only in whatever space may be left over in the science area. These spaces may be the only science storage areas in a school, and thus serve the dual functions of prep space and storage space. When this occurs, and the space is undersized or improperly designed, prep space loses out to storage and unsafe conditions may result.

The NSTA Guide recommends that an additional 10 sq. ft. per student be provided for prep and storage; in other words 240 sq. ft. for support of a single lab/classroom of 24 students. Careful design of this space is critical to ensure that proper facilities are provided for storage, as well as plenty of counter space, sinks, and other equipment for safe preparation of materials for demonstrations and student investigations. Here are some guidelines for adequate and successful prep and storage spaces.

Storage should have its own, well-defined area with open shelving of various heights and widths, tall cabinets, open floor space, and other specialized storage equipment. Physical science storage may need peg-board areas on a wall to store long items such as air tracks, as well as open floor space for large, heavy items (physics teachers generally have a number of neat things to demonstrate physical phenomena such as unicycles, bowling balls, crossbows, etc.). Chemistry and biology need safe, well-designed shelving and cabinets for glassware and other equipment, plus separate, well-ventilated storage rooms for chemicals. Provide floor space, possibly

Provide storage for utility carts

Provide storage for utility carts

underneath a counter, for the carts used to transport materials from the prep/storage area to the lab/classroom, and also for the storage of various safety apparatus, such as splatter or demo shields, that may not have a home in the lab/classroom. Field equipment, including nets, waders, shovels, seines, and other equipment that may become dirty, also needs a storage place. Some schools have provided separate “mud rooms” adjacent to biology and environmental science lab/classrooms with wall hooks for waders, bins or racks for nets and other gear, a floor drain, and a hose bibb for washing down muddy items.