South City school seeks to improve lab space 

The sixth-graders at Westborough Middle School currently conduct science experiments in their compact classrooms, since there is no dedicated space for labs.

Science teacher Dan Kessler and his colleagues at the South San Francisco school are excited about the possibility of Westborough receiving a new lab to teach their courses in.

“The sixth-graders do an experiment with plants,” he said. “It would be nice to have the storage space to do a multiweek experiment.”

The 700-student school is currently without a room designated solely for lab use. Kessler said shorter experiments are done in compact classrooms. A new lab room, though, would allow for more space and longer experiments.

All students are required to take a science and lab class, Kessler said. There are about 34 students per science class.

Other middle schools, including Alta Loma, have science labs, Kessler said.

Preliminary discussions took place last week about the options and potential to turn a former metal shop in to a science lab.

Westborough’s principal, Beth Orofino, said a larger lab space could improve learning experiences.

“An effective lab space would make the hands-on experience and hopefully expand their interest in science,” she said.

Orofino said the middle school was remodeled in 2001, but the cost to update the metal shop that was there would have been too costly. She said one-third of that space was converted into a classroom. The remaining two-thirds became storage.

Conversion of the storage room to include lab tables and chemical storage could cost as much as $1 million, based on three options presented to the South San Francisco Unified School District.

According to district documents, the options include complete conversion of the 1,370-square-foot space with new hallways and connections to math classrooms for an estimated $837,000 to minimal conversion that would just change the interior of the storage space for roughly $520,000.

Orofino said the presentation to the school board was the first of many steps before any decision is made.

“Funding is always a concern,” Orofino said. “But we’ve presented it to the board and now we’ll go from there.”

Kessler said teachers make do with the space they have, but more would be utilized and appreciated because hands-on learning is the best for science.

“It’s exciting as a teacher to have the opportunity to have more space dedicated to learning,” he said. “In science, you do best learning hands-on.”

Science lab options

Three options have been proposed to put a science lab into Westborough Middle School.

Option 1

Cost: $518,746
Pros:
- No disruption to existing math classrooms
- No disruption to existing wood shop
- Adequate-sized new science lab
- Construction would have minimal impact on school operations
Cons:
- Exterior access to lab required

Option 2

Cost: $516,278
Pros:
- Provides interior access to labs
Cons:
- Interior corridor to lab reduces size of math classrooms
- Requires significant reconstruction of math classrooms
- Smaller, less functional lab
- Awkward access to new lab

Option 3

Cost: $836,806
Pros:
- Provides interior access to lab
- No disruption to existing math classroom
- Develops a corridor to access additional classrooms
Cons:
- Higher construction cost
- Reduced size of wood shop
- Fire-rating and shear-bearing wall issues

Source: South San Francisco Unified School District

akoskey@sfexaminer.com

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