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Gratnells: special Report for architects

This Special Report is intended for architects and specifiers and looks at the issues that need to be discussed regarding the design and construction of science accommodation and the installation of furniture, services and equipment. The contents are applicable to England and Wales; different pupil numbers and provisions apply in Scotland and N. Ireland.

When designing science accommodation, even a single laboratory, the aim is to provide attractive, well-equipped facilities that support pupils as they engage with and learn about science. Exciting, high-quality practical work is a vital part of pupils’
science experience and provision for this is what makes science accommodation unique. However, ambitions for high standards of science accommodation are often thwarted, to a greater or lesser extent, by constraints such as a lack of:

• Knowledge about what the facilities might look like.
• Flexibility to create the optimum size and shape of rooms within an existing building.
• Budget – planned or unplanned – with costs overrunning.
• Knowledge about the essentials required for health and safety.
The extent to which a school will want or need to compromise

on its ambition is not easy to define. However, this Special Report describes what can be achieved without compromises. The nearer the final build is to descriptions in the following pages, the longer the design will last while still providing high quality facilities. If features are input at the design stage, most will cost very little or nothing at all. Correcting mistakes retrospectively, on mandatory health and safety features for example, can be very costly. In order to maintain good standards within laboratories, a range of support spaces are essential. This Special Report will also look at some of the standards required for these support areas.

As Project Faraday* has clearly demonstrated, teachers, technicians, support staff and pupils should be involved throughout all the stages of design and build. This requires time, resources and support for staff going through possible changes in teaching practice, changes in types and styles of accommodation, and the stress of coping with building works.

The Science Laboratory

This is a serviced, practical area for the teaching and learning of science. Other functions are better catered for in adjacent support and storage areas.

The chemicals, materials, equipment and services involved in science laboratories make them a ‘danger area’ under health and safety regulations. It is therefore essential that they are supervised by suitably qualified staff, are properly equipped for health and safety, and are not used for inappropriate activities. The same considerations apply to the Prep Room, the chemicals store, the radioactives store and some equipment stores.

Only equipment in frequent use should be stored in a laboratory; all other equipment and materials should have dedicated storage. Teachers’ marking and personal preparation are best provided for away from the laboratory. Most management activities are best accommodated in planned spaces, while social activities, eating and drinking should certainly be accommodated separately from the ‘danger areas’. A laboratory is not the most suitable place for a tutor-base.

Other learning spaces

The usual science accommodation has been all laboratories,
each fully fitted out. This is the most flexible provision in terms
of traditional curriculum models, schools’ timetables and management systems. If a school’s vision for its pupils’ learning looks forward to alternative types of spaces to complement laboratories, there must be corresponding shifts in management of staff, the curriculum, timetabling, organisation of pupil groups, and the timings and scheduling of the school day.

Such spaces might include group or individual learning areas,
ICT areas, demonstration theatres, microbiology (clean) areas, environmental areas, greenhouses, etc. Project Faraday provides an excellent range of examples. The majority of spaces will need to be supplied with services to allow a wide range of practical work to be carried out.

Support areas

Prep Room(s)
The purpose of these areas is to support the practical work taking place in laboratories. They are for the preparation, maintenance and repair of equipment and materials and for the disposal of materials when they are finished with. As such, they are for the use of science technicians (and science teachers who are preparing
or practising practical activities) with administration facilities focused on the support of practical work. Other management and administrative functions, social and refreshment activities, should be catered for in other spaces.

Chemicals: A separate, secure storeroom for hazardous chemicals is essential. It should open into the Prep Room and be separately ventilated.

Radioactives: Radioactive sources must be stored in a metal cupboard within a secure storeroom. This storeroom is usually one used mainly for general equipment or paper resources.

Other storerooms: These will be needed for gas cylinders, general equipment, paper, textbooks, ICT equipment, etc. Most of these will need to be secure as a protection from theft or damage. Some equipment (eg vacuum glassware, high voltage equipment) will also need additional security for health and safety reasons.

All stores should be easily accessible from the Prep Room(s) and the laboratories.

Management, administration and individual staff work spaces
Proper provision for these functions will promote higher standards of leadership and morale. It will also ensure that the laboratories and Prep Room(s) are able to function safely as practical areas.

Social and Refreshment
Newer designs for schools include distributed provision for social and refreshment areas for staff; sometimes also for pupils. These areas may be specially designed, separate areas, or part of the management/administration areas. It is better to plan and design these as part of the vision for the science area, rather than let them grow up within the science department as they will inevitably do.

Staff are entitled to toilet provision within easy reach of their teaching areas. Distributed provision for pupils is an increasing trend and can mean that pupils take better care of the facilities. Toilets for the disabled should also be easily accessible from science areas.

Cleaning equipment
Storage of cleaning equipment should be entirely separate to science accommodation, including science stores.

To download the entire report, please click here. Gratnells range is visible on our site. Please also visit Gratnells website.

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