Guidelines for selecting a venue for a school computer room

Tuesday, December 16th, 2008 | Installation

Most schools were built years ago and were not designed to house computer facilities. When a computer room is planned for a school, the venue must be carefully selected, since the safety of learners, the security of the equipment and the general usability of the facility depend on the correct choice of venue.

Here are some suggestions for selecting an appropriate location, based on the experience gained in establishing over a thousand computer facilities in the Western Cape.

  1. Since one of the easiest places a burglar could enter a computer facility is through the roof, it makes sense to secure the ceiling. Considerable cost savings could be achieved if a roof with a concrete ceiling is selected.
  2. A room with solid brick walls all around is preferable, as opposed to prefab walls, or even interior dry walls. Non-solid walls must be avoided since they will have to be reinforced, often at a considerable cost.
  3. The number and the size of windows must be considered. The smaller the windows and the fewer of them in a room, the less one has to spend on securing them. It is also preferable that the windows are higher up against the wall. If a room is selected because it conforms to other criteria, but the windows are a security risk, consider bricking up some of them. This could have an additional advantage of greater light control.
  4. If strong burglar bars are already on the inside of the windows, and stone-guard protection on the outside, cost and effort will be reduced.
  5. Windows may be welded to the frames, which will prevent them from being opened. It should be noted that in this case air-conditioning would be essential.
  6. The size of the room is important. It must be large enough to accommodate the required technology to satisfy the educational requirements of the school. In the case of a computer laboratory, it is suggested that a room to house 25 networked computers and 50 learners, should be at a minimum be 8 X 7 m2. In some cases it may be possible to find two adjacent rooms where a wall could be removed to make one room, but one needs to ascertain that this will not violate safety regulations.
  7. It would be advantageous if a small adjacent room is available to act as a server room; alternatively the room must be large enough to make provision for a separate server section.
  8. Where the school has computers in the administration section, and there exists a need to include these computers into the new network, it would be advantageous to select a room close by. This would reduce the cost for network cabling.
  9. It is preferable that the room is as close as possible to the electrical distribution board.
  10. If there is a choice between two rooms that satisfy most selection criteria, choose the one with the least amount of renovation cost – consider the floors, ceiling, walls, security and other infrastructure costs that may be required.
  11. Consider future expansion, particularly in bigger schools. Surrounding rooms that may be made available for technology centers at a later stage would be advantageous.
  12. In the Southern Hemisphere, it is advisable to choose a room that is north facing (in summer it has shade in the afternoon). This reduces glare and air conditioning cost.
  13. It may be very tempting to convert a library into a computer room. If the library is the only available venue one should consider creating a combination library/media room/computer laboratory, rather than doing away with a library in favour of a dedicated computer room.

Not all of the points in this list are applicable in every case – each situation is different and one must decide which ones are relevant in a particular situation.

The suggestions are not only relevant for the selection of the first computer room for a school – they can also be guidelines for the selection of subsequent facilities. Likewise, some of the principles will be useful when you want to move technology, such as interactive electronic whiteboards, into individual classrooms.

For more tips for principles, click here.

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3 Comments to Guidelines for selecting a venue for a school computer room

Wednesday, 17 December, 2008

Pt 3 : Windows. I have a major issue surrounding this point as adequate ventilation in a room is a major bug-bear. I am personally not in favour of bricking up all windows in a room as natural light and proper ventilation is a must. I understand dust and security issues, but health takes precedence. Air-conditioners, when not properly maintained makes one sick, not to take about spreading germs during winter. In many schools these units don’t work properly anymore.

Pt 8 : Networking – In my personal opinion I would run my admin on a separate network and not on the “Khanya” network. Too much risk.

pt 9 : Electrical – Many schools, particularly in the Khayelitsha area struggle with this problem. The distribution boards are not secure, are easily accessible and in some cases these cannot carry the proper load. This causes the everything in the school or block of classrooms to trip. During winter when computers, air-conditioners, duplicating machines and heaters run, a major outage at the school is the norm more than the except.

pt12 : North facing rooms – This is OK for sun during summer, but is poor for many schools in winter. Rain tends come from the same direction and water blows into classrooms. I have always found it strange that schools were never built in a North-South (Windows and doors facing West-East) direction but always West-East(windows and doors facing North-South). I wondered about the problem since I was at high school more than 20 years ago. The architects should visit these schools during winter. Maybe I am totally out of line or stupid, but I am open to correction.

Wednesday, 17 December, 2008

Thank you, Mark, for your comments. Your views are always greatly appreciated, particularly since I know that they are formed through years of practical experience. Your comment on point number 8 is one that I particularly enjoyed. It is for some time now that I am leaning towards a separation of networks – although there are merits in having everything connected, in some cases it simply is not practical and many complications are avoided by keeping the admin network separate from the academic one.

Brent Jones
Thursday, 18 December, 2008

I can only speak from an American point of view. But I have used computers since 1969 and have been a secondary school teacher for more than 14, so I can offer a relevant comment.

The days of computer rooms is now past. Laptops and wireless Internet is the only way to go. Eventually all local servers will be blended into the Internet. See “cloud computing” by Amazon and Google. Every single student should have a $400 laptop from grade 4 on. The price should eventually stabilize at $200 for new Internet-based laptops. Mobility is key. Battery power. All recorded human knowledge is nearly available. Now we need to make sure it is free of cost.

As is the case with mobile/cell phones, Africa and Asia and South America can skip landlines and go completely wireless. It will be the norm for the future. Europe and N. America are slightly hobbled by the existing infrastructure of wiring. Schools here are quickly going to wireless Internet and laptops. Textbooks should/could be eliminated within 7 years, perhaps less.

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