Lab Design Lessons from a STEM Pioneer: Part 1 (You Don’t Have to Build New)
Architect reveals lessons learned from design of award-winning STEM labs at Niles Township High School District 219
Eight years ago, science instructors at Niles North and West High Schools (Skokie, Illinois) wanted their students to do independent research. This was just as the STEM movement was coming into vogue. However, the schools didn’t have the right kind of space or know how a STEM space should be organized.
A year later, Niles Township High School District 219 (D219) and Legat Architects developed some of the first dedicated high school STEM labs in the nation as a home base for the district’s STEM Inquiry and Research (SIR) program. Since then, Niles North and Niles West have gone on to achieve international recognition as incubators for tomorrow’s researchers.
The prospect of creating dedicated STEM spaces might seem daunting for most districts. However, the D219 story reveals that achieving advanced STEM labs is a realistic goal. It isn’t complicated, and it doesn’t cost a fortune.
My next few posts will share some of the lessons learned from working on the D219 STEM labs. Hopefully, you’ll gain some insight on how to cost effectively transform your spaces into project-based learning environments that get students excited about STEM and give them the independence that they need to become top tier researchers.
Here’s the first lesson:
Getting STEM Labs Doesn’t Mean Building New
Schools don’t need to build new multi-million dollar facilities to create effective STEM settings. Buildings can instead be renewed to help support STEM programs. It doesn’t matter if the space is square or rectangular. And the space doesn’t need to be massive . . . 2,000 to 2,500 square feet should be sufficient.
In the case of Niles North and Niles West, we started with an underused science classroom and its support spaces. These are ideal spaces to be converted to STEM since they typically have a lot of the plumbing, electrical, and gas infrastructure already in place to keep costs down. The locations for the proposed STEM labs also had good access from the main corridors so that these spaces could be celebrated and passersby could see the activity taking place within.
Next time we’ll discuss the organization of the STEM lab.
View more images and information about the evolution of STEM spaces.
Contact us to learn more about STEM lab design or comment below to share your thoughts on this post.
Feature photo courtesy Niles Township High School District 219.