Kevin R. McCarthy for Jefferson County Commissioner

Beaumont ISD Bond – Westbrook Science Labs

I haven’t said anything about the Beaumont ISD Bond. I’ve got enough BS to talk about with Port Arthur. But I saw the plans for the science labs at Westbrook today. The blog entry is HERE. The picture of the labs is HERE.

First of all, I’m not some idiot politician who has stick his two cents in. I’m a high school science teacher. I’ve taught in several science lab/classrooms and I’ve read quite a bit about what works and what doesn’t. Out of the schools I’ve seen (Sabine Pass, Memorial, PNG, Westbrook (plans)), by far the best labs were at PNG (at least they were in the late 80s when I was there).

The Westbrook plans are pretty awful. Let me tell you why:

First my assumptions. These will be either Chemistry or Biology labs (maybe both). Most schools require every student to take Chemistry and Biology, and these look to be set up for them. IPC (Physical Science) is another possibility, but just about anything will work for the Physics part of IPC, the Chemistry part… well, see Chemistry.

Storage Rooms

They are VERY narrow. [The scale is useless without the original document.] So, assuming one of the lab desks is six feet wide, then the storage rooms are about eight feet wide. That sounds like a lot, but just looking at the drawing, they look crowded. You must have a prep area (counter about two feet wide). You must have chemical storage. You also have to store glassware and other equipment in that room. Plus have a fume hood, sinks (at least two), it looks like there is a bathroom in there. I don’t see a safety shower though, that is much more important for the prep room than the classroom. After all it’s not (it better not be) the students handling concentrated acids.

There is a VERY specific system for storing chemicals and you ignore that system at your peril. In my lab, for 20 Chemistry students, I have 5 eight foot tall 18in deep shelf units (that are very full), plus a flammables cabinet (locking, metal) and an acids cabinet (locking, wood and polypropylene). I figure the acids cabinet for a high school Westbrook’s size should be able to store 30 Liters of concentrated acids or 120 Liters of prepared acids PER CLASSROOM. So six feet tall, 24 inches deep and at least 36 inches wide with 4 poly lined shelves. Chemical storage should (therefore) take up about 18 feet of wall space. With prep counters and storage, your 8 foot wide room has shrunk to four feet wide.

The Chemistry labs at Memorial High School (Port Arthur ISD) did have that right. There were three and each one was the size of a regular classroom. Trust me, when two teachers are in there prepping Sulfuric Acid, you want as much room as you can get.

Solution: I would suggest moving the two end classrooms, one on top and one below the four closest to the main hall. Then create two large storage/prep rooms that three teachers share. Each one should be at least 24×24. Larger is better.

Lab Tables

If this building is built this way, then in two years, you will have a major fire hazard. We had it at Memorial. What are walls in classrooms used for? Yep, posters, bulletin boards, etc. It looks like there is the teachers desk nearest the hall and a sink/cabinet on the far wall. Since the white board will be next to the teachers desk, you only have a little room for bulletin boards.** So where do the safety posters end up? On the wall over the lab tables. The lab tables that are about to have Bunsen burners and hot acids and bases on them. Time for a fire drill that isn’t a drill.

Also, see how half the tables are on one wall and half the tables are on the other wall. Guess what’s in the middle. Yep, student desks. Probably too many for that space too. But that’s a real problem if the teacher needs to get to the other side of the room in a hurry… like if a poster catches on fire.

Kids being too close together is a major cause of minor accidents.

Solution: Make the classrooms longer rather than more square and put all the lab tables in one area AWAY from the wall. Also, they need to be more spread out.


The classroom needs to be larger. The classroom area looks smaller than the neighboring classrooms. Every principle and every school board say that they will reduce class sizes for science. Every year, they can’t. I’ve taught a Chemistry class with 32 students. It literally isn’t possible to do labs with that many kids. It looks like there is one sink in a cabinet at the back. There may be additional sinks between the lab tables, I can’t tell on the drawing. There needs to be though. I have three sinks, not including the ones on the lab tables. I make my students wash up in sinks other than the ones on the lab tables… just in case.

I think those rooms need to examined really closely by the science teachers and see if they will meet there needs. I don’t think that they will work as well as they (whoever they is) thinks that they will.

Final Note: I’ve seen major incidents happen at schools where I was teacher. I’ve seen a kid with chemical burns and a chemical fire at a school. Chemistry isn’t like other subjects. Even with some basic labs, it is possible to have a major injury. If the lab room isn’t safe or even if the teacher feels it isn’t safe, then no labs get done. Those kids might as well be in a regular classroom because the lab portion of that room won’t get used.

Few schools are willing to devote the space needed for a really safe classroom/lab. BISD has a chance to do things right here. You guys in Beaumont need to speak up and make sure they do. Also, make sure the new science classrooms get new science equipment, not the crappy old stuff from 20 years ago.

** Principles want to see bulletin boards and posters in the classroom. They want that stuff (visible evidence of teaching I guess) more than a crack addict wants his next hit.

February 23, 2008 - Posted by | Jefferson County


  1. […] Association of Physics Teachers: Role of Labs in High School Physics. Here is a teacher’s assessment of some science labs he’s seen local to him in Texas (yes, it’s a political candidate’s site, but […]

    Pingback by Florida Citizens for Science » Blog Archive » Importance of science lab design | October 24, 2008 | Reply

  2. Thanks for posting this information. Our school is embarking on a new Science and Tech Building. Translating information from teacher to architect is challenging. Your ideas have provided me with helpful data.

    Comment by Julie Rohl | August 14, 2009 | Reply

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