How to Design a Fantastic High School Science Lab for Inquiry-Based Learning Within TEA Design Requirements

“Scientific inquiry is the planned and deliberate investigation of the natural world. Scientific methods of investigation can be experimental, descriptive, or comparative.” [1] With 40% of instructional time dedicated to scientific investigation, having sufficient floor space for students to explore safely is critical. Equipment and technology work hand-in-hand in the investigative procedures used in all TEKS for science programs, so the minimum square footage requirements noted in the Commissioners Rules Concerning School Facilities takes into account both class size and the safety equipment used in the classroom.


The TEA defines a science laboratory as a specialized classroom. High school level science has the following provisions for combination science laboratories/classrooms and separate science classrooms and laboratories:

  • Science classrooms shall be provided at a ratio not to exceed 2:1 of science classrooms to science laboratories. [2]
  • Combination science laboratories/classrooms shall have a minimum of 1,400 square feet per room at the high school level. The minimum room size is adequate for 24 students; 58 square feet per student shall be added to the minimum square footage for each student in excess of 24.
  • A science laboratory shall have a minimum of 1,000 square feet at the high school level. The minimum laboratory size is adequate for 24 students; 42 square feet per student shall be added to the minimum square footage for each student in excess of 24.


Now let’s calculate how many science laboratories are needed for your school.

Step 1: Determine the student capacity of the school

-- Example: 1600 student capacity

Step 2: How many students will be in each class?

-- Example: 28 students

Step 3: How many periods per day?

-- Example: 7 usable periods per day

Step 4: Calculate how many science laboratories are needed

  • Divide Capacity by class size

     1,600/28 = 57.14

  • Divide this quotient by the number of periods per day

     57.14/7 = 8.16 teaching spaces required

  • Round the number of teaching spaces up to the nearest whole number

     8.16 = 9 teaching spaces required

  • Result: 9 combination laboratories are recommended, or 9 laboratories and 18 classroom

Step 5: Calculate minimum total sqaure footage for each option

-- Example: Combination laboratory classroom

  • 1,400 sf for 24 students + 58 sf for each additional student over 24
  • 1,400 + (4*58) = 1632
  • 1,632 * 9 = 14,688 sf

Minimum total square foot = 14,688 sf


Example: Separate science classrooms and science laboratories;

  • 100 + (4*42) = 1168
  • 1168 * 9 = 10,512 sf laboratories and;
  • 700 * 18 = 12,600 sf* classrooms

Minimum total square feet = 23,112 sf*

*Note that the science classrooms can be used for subjects other than science and total school capacity and number of periods utilized will determine the overall program space requirement.


Your architect will be engaged in the programming process and will complete the calculations and review the space program options with you. Now that the required number of laboratories has been determined, perhaps you decide to opt for a combination laboratory classroom. The area available for inquiry-based investigation seems massive, but you have additional requirements for your new space: you want a highly flexible lab that will accommodate Chemistry, Physics, Biology, Aquatics, Astronomy, Earth Science, and Integrated Physics and Chemistry.

Light & Learning Space
You know that natural light and access to outdoor spaces improve student learning outcomes. So you want natural light that will spill into the lab through windows that rise from the top of the epoxy resin back splash to the bottom of the lay-in ceiling. Add interior windows, and the lab feels even more open than the square footage dictates. There will be a transparent collaboration space off the lab for small group breakout discussion, so teachers can still provide visual oversight.

This lab is required to have a built-in fume hood that vents to the outside, above the roof, away from air vents. You decide to place this fume hood is along the corridor wall with glazing along the back, allowing students walking by to see what’s happening in the lab. In the case of an emergency, the fume hood needs to be away from exits, so you place the fume hood no closer than 6’-0” from the exit doors.

Because chemicals are used in Chemistry and IPC, a combination emergency shower and eyewash are placed within the recommended 10 seconds of accessibility, no matter where you are in the lab.

What’s behind the walls and above the ceiling are also important in lab safety. The ventilation system serving the science classrooms/lab is designed so that it will not recirculate into non-science areas. An exhaust fan controlled by the teacher is located in the lab and by the flip of a switch or turn of dial the science lab will be exhausted in 15 minutes. Emergencies happen in labs and the ability to shut off electricity, gas, and water at a moment’s notice must be readily accessible to teachers and not students.

Collaboration & Interactivity
Science casework should provide at least six linear feet of total horizontal workspace for each student. However, the trend of flexible learning environments holds true for your dream lab, so you want to optimize flexibility by placing fixed casework areas only around the perimeter of the lab. The remaining 14 student tables are all mobile and you’ll even have a few stations that integrate a service carrier for utilities located in the ceiling. These student tables are also height adjustable, so that they can be used at sitting and standing height.

The teacher demonstration table is no longer a monument at the front of a lab, but a demonstration table on casters that can be moved up close to the students during inquiry-based learning.

An overhead coiling door provides direct access to the science courtyard, offering limitless opportunities for Earth Science classes and the lovely pond there will be an added benefit to Aquatic science classes.

The number of students and the square footage allocated for each student is just the beginning of your science lab design journey. The advent of open, flexible learning spaces transforms what used to be limiting factors into an excellent opportunity to create diverse learning environments that meet not only state requirements, but also the unique needs of the students and teachers who will inhabit it.

1 Source: The provisions of this §112.39 adopted to be effective August 4, 2009, 34 TexReg 5063; amended to be effective August 27, 2018, 42 TexReg 5052.

2 Texas Administrative Code, TITLE 19 EDUCATION, PART 2 TEXAS EDUCATION AGENCY, CHAPTER 61 SCHOOL DISTRICTS SUBCHAPTER CC COMMISSIONER'S RULES CONCERNING SCHOOL FACILITIES, RULE §61.1036 School Facilities Standards for Construction on or after January 1, 2004