Designing Science Facilities for Safety
Title: Designing Science Facilities for the National Science Education Standards
Author: James T. Biehle, AIA
Below is an excerpt from a published course advising on space requirements for laboratory design and what factors to include in your decision-making when planning science classrooms.
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 decreases. 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 Planning School Science Facilities recommends minimum areas per student in a science facility. For dedicated, stand-alone science classrooms for elementary (K-5) schools, the recommended minimum is 40 square feet per student; for middle (6-8) and high school, the recommended minimum for a combined lab/classroom is 60 square feet per student.
Number of students: Research indicates that 24 students is about the maximum number that can safely be supervised in a science lab/classroom. As class size increases beyond 24 students, the “mishap” rate increases dramatically.
Thus, for a dedicated elementary science space, the appropriate minimum size is 960 square feet; and for middle and high school combined lab/classrooms, the appropriate minimum size is 1,440 square feet. Space for storage and prep rooms is in addition to these minimums.
Means of egress: All science lab/classrooms should have two means of egress, although some building codes may require only one. One means of egress should be an out-swinging door which leads directly to a fire-rated corridor; the second means of egress should be a second door, located at least one-half the diagonal dimension of the lab/classroom away from the first door, leading either directly outdoors (at ground level) or to a fire-rated corridor leading directly to the outdoors. In some locales, operable windows may legally serve as a second means of egress; practically speaking, a second, remote door provides the safest response to an emergency within the room.
Please direct all inquiries with regards to school laboratory planning, science furniture and construction projects to the marketing department at Longo firstname.lastname@example.org. To request a consultant & laboratory space evaluation, email Nat Longo (email@example.com). Nat Longo has been building school science labs and commercial laboratories for over 25 years. Project lists are available from Longo if you wish to see where we have worked in NY, NJ, PA, CT, MA & RI.
Tags: Designing School Labs for Safety, Designing Science Labs for Safety, educational lab planning, Lab Space Planning, Laboratory Safety, Laboratory Space Planning, Planning Science Classrooms, Safety in School Lab Design, Safety in Science Lab Design, School Lab Planning, Science Lab Design, Science Lab Space Planning, Space Requirements for Laboratory Design