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 requirements for laboratory design and what factors to include in your decision-making when planning high school science classrooms.
Many high schools still plan their lab/classrooms for specific scientific disciplines: Physics, Chemistry, Biology and some sort of introductory science course. The specific requirements of each of these spaces can be different, but could, if desired, be accommodated in a common design. Investigations in which students work more independently are common and students are often required to design their own investigations to answer specific questions.
High school science teaching spaces should be primarily combination lab/classrooms with an assortment of auxiliary spaces to supplement these basic building blocks. Perimeter counters, base cabinets and sinks and wall cabinets are common; although, in some specific areas, fixed islands may be desired.
A maximum of 24 students should be housed in a lab/classroom and a minimum of 60 square feet per student provided for a total room size of 1,440 square feet. A shape closer to square than long and narrow provides more opportunities for flexible furniture arrangements and is particularly appropriate for Physics. Students often sit at tables large enough for two students; these tables should be sturdily constructed with epoxy resin or phenolic resin tops. Attention to leg attachment is critical since these tables will likely be moved often during their lifetime and legs may come loose welded metal or through-bolted wood construction. If the same tables are to serve dual usage as work surfaces for discussion and presentations, and as laboratory surfaces, they should be at laboratory height, or 36″. Providing two sets of tables, one for seated discussions and one for standing, laboratory work allows the class to move between discussion/presentation and investigations during the same class period without disrupting the laboratory table arrangement.
Physics lab/classrooms generally require fewer sinks and much more flexible space. High ceilings of 10 feet or more are desirable. A suspension apparatus capable of supporting at least 300 pounds per linear foot should hang beneath the ceiling to provide for the suspension of pendulums, and other devices. Longer, wider tables (seven feet by three feet) are useful since the larger surface can easily support, say, a 2-meter air track. The top material could be resin or wood butcher block (which lends itself more readily to C clamps).
Longer, movable tables should have at least one intermediate pair of legs which should be connected to the others by a stretcher frame construction. Some specifically designed physics tables have been employed to enhance a particular program. Physics requires a large number of electrical outlets placed around the room and in recessed floor boxes. DC power can most reasonably be provided using portable converters, plugged into a standard AC outlet. Provide lengths of wall space with no cabinets or markerboards for the installation of Atwood machines or similar apparatus. An adjacent student project space with power tools and the ability to construct devices discussed in physics can greatly enhance the engineering aspects of a physics course.
Biology lab/classrooms require a minimum of one large sink for every four students with both hot and cold water. A very useful perimeter sink station is called a “rinseaway” station and consists of a molded fiberglass top; 6 foot and 10 foot long models have one or two drain areas sloping to a single sink. A pull-out face shower can be used to wash off the sloping surface as well as an additional safety feature of the room. Glassware drying racks can be located on the wall above perimeter sink stations; make sure that the bottom of the drying rack is flush with the top of the backsplash of the sink so that water drains directly into the sink.
Tables for lecture and class discussion should be separate from tables for lab work so that students can easily move between each activity without disturbing set-ups on the lab tables. Lab table height can be an issue on
Biology as many prefer to sit down while using a microscope, although, from a safety standpoint, this is not necessarily a good thing. If most lab functions will be conducted seated, and the lower desk-height table is used for this function, the table should be 30″ high; if most laboratory functions will be conducted standing up, the tables should be at countertop height, or 36″.
Fixed teacher demonstration tables waste floor space and create a very inflexible area at the “front” of the classroom; many new facilities are providing a rolling demonstration surface consisting of a 72″ x 32″ resin countertop with various base cabinets for storage beneath. The entire assembly is mounted on four to six heavy duty casters so that the finished height is 36″, flush with perimeter countertops. When water or gas is needed for a demonstration, the unit can be wheeled to a perimeter sink or gas jet; otherwise it may be located anywhere within the lab/classroom. The 32″ dimension allows the unit to pass through a 36″ wide door into a prep room.
As electrical power is required for microscopes and other equipment, recessed floor boxes work well since they can be closed when not in use and the furniture arrangement can be very flexible. Although there are still some Biology lab/classrooms being constructed with a central gas system, use of gas is so minimal in most programs, that the expensive central system probably should be eliminated in favor of hot plates for most heating functions and small gas bottles for those limited usages where an open flame is required. Provide sufficient power for the number of hot plates to be used, probably at least two separate 20 amp circuits per lab/classroom.
Ventilation is also important in Biology. Some programs require at least one fume hood for demonstrations and group projects; if permanently located, this hood might have glass viewing panels on three sides and be located perpendicular to a wall. Portable fume hoods which recirculate air through a series of filters have also become more reliable in recent years and, although nearly as expensive as a fixed hood, can add flexibility to a layout. Providing a purge air system in the form of an exhaust fan which pulls air directly outdoors can help quickly clear the space of undesirable fumes. Do not rely on a fixed fume hood system for this purpose as they are generally not designed to draw that much air quickly.
Chemistry is the one area in which the move to a totally flexible lab space may be more difficult. The chemistry faculty should evaluate their need for fixed lab stations with respect to the use of corrosive materials that would require corrosion-resistant piping and an acid- dilution system and the need for a central gas system. Many chemistry programs are moving to a system in which the quantities of corrosive chemicals used by students are minimal and the student use of gas is also minimal. In these instances, a single, teacher demonstration station with an undercounter acid neutralization tank and gas jet could serve the needs of the entire class, thereby allowing perimeter sinks and movable tables for the student lab stations. Central acid neutralization systems with corrosion-resistant glass or polypropylene piping are expensive; any acid-dilution system requires periodic maintenance to replace the limestone chips within the dilution tank as they are consumed. Central gas systems are also expensive, requiring extensive piping and an emergency push-button shutoff system which interconnects with the electrical power system to immediately shut down the gas and power in a room. Using hot plates and/or butane cartridges for small burners eliminates this added expense and can increase safety within the chemistry lab/classroom.
Chemicals should NOT be stored within the lab/classroom, nor should they be stored within the prep room. A separate, lockable chemical storage room should be provided with its own ventilation system, providing approximately ten air changes per hour. Vents at the floor and at the ceiling should be included (see photo in “Safety” section) along with a “make-up air” system that brings in fresh air to replace the air that the exhaust system removes. Do not provide electrical outlets in the chemical storage room and have the switch for the room lighting mounted on the wall outside the room. If this room supplies chemicals for more than one lab/classroom, it should be centrally located and have a door to the corridor; this door should always be locked and accessible only by key.
Fume hoods are often used by students in chemistry and should be made accessible to as many students as possible. A “demonstration fume hood” which has view windows on three sides can be mounted perpendicular to a wall (see photo on previous page), thereby allowing a group of students to gather around a hood; at least five feet should be provided between adjacent hoods and hoods should not be placed near a door or window that might disturb the flow of air within the hood. Some recently constructed, movable fume hoods have impressed science safety experts with their ability to serve the needs of a school science program by recirculating air through a series of filters designed for the specific use of the program. First cost of these hoods may be as expensive as a fixed hood; however the life-cycle costs may be lower as the fan use may be significantly less and the major maintenance cost is in the periodic replacement of the filters. Flexibility of the lab/ classroom can be greatly enhanced if a large area is not dedicated to fixed hoods.
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.