Plans for New WAHS Science Labs Emerge


Photo By: Darah Bonham

Renderings of the exterior of the new science labs.

August Lamb, Photo Editor

New science labs are coming to WAHS. Students may have already heard of the renovations happening next year, but recently, the Science Department and the Albemarle County School Board adopted some major design changes to the $35 million project. We interviewed Science Department chair and Western chemistry teacher Carol Stutzman, and principal Darah Bonham about the changes to the new wing.

The new classrooms will be situated between the current science wing and A-wing, in the parking lot behind the school. The current science rooms will also be renovated, with the exception of Dr. A and Mr. Ball’s rooms, which will be transformed into a large collaborative space and laboratory with individual study spaces for students. Stutzman said that the large area is intended to allow teachers to coordinate with each other and design inter-curricular lessons, including those involving how history and math relate to science. The original plans called for the collaborative space to be much larger than it is now, but the Science Department had questions about how safe that space would be without constant supervision. “There has been a lot of discussion around the practicality of combining subjects that are not usually run in the same room, and concerns about noise, distraction and safety. Science has a unique safety element that is not always understood by those who don’t teach it,” said Stutzman.

The current science rooms will also receive a refresh, with improved layouts and designs. Stutzman believes that the new rooms will allow for better organization and will enable her to incorporate more labs into her curriculum. New lab tables, storage, lighting, and better prep-rooms are in the details. “I am most excited about a room that is easier to move around in, safer for students, and much easier to run labs and activities. I am excited about better lighting including dimmer switches, and usable sinks and better-designed lab tables,” Stutzman said. The plans also call for a workroom for the science teachers, giving them a quiet place to plan and grade. Students will also be happy to know that the tiny door between Mr. Kompelien and Ms. Stutzman’s rooms is being removed – the hallway will be completely open.

Stutzman explained that the plans are still being debated, as the department continues to have concerns about some of the design elements. Removable classroom walls, like the ones in the new Global Studies rooms, don’t filter out noise from neighboring rooms. While the teachers say collaboration is important, these walls sometimes cause major distractions. Another huge problem with the new lab is parking. Its footprint will remove teacher parking from the rear of the school, which is expected to be moved to the senior spots directly in front of the main office. As WAHS is already short on parking spaces for its students, the new labs will likely worsen the problem.

A portion of the money will also go towards various renovations and modernizations around the school, mainly for renovations in the A-wing CTE section. Science teacher Carrie Taylor will be moving her room to A-wing, where there are plans to utilize that area’s two stories to construct a massive pendulum for her physics class.

The renovations come as a result of 2016’s Bond Referendum, which allocated the $35 million for improvements at Western. “It was felt that the labs, many of them with original casework from original construction in 1977, needed an upgrade to reflect the changing needs of teaching and learning in our labs. The addition was to help support the full cohort of ESA students for the future,” commented principal Darah Bonham. Plans and blueprints for the new wing are expected to continue to change in the near future as negotiations between teachers, the county, and the architect pan out.