Coalition Seeks Support For School-Building Projects

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RAVINIA, GA.--A national coalition formed by educators and school facility planners is working to garner public and legislative support for building new schools and upgrading existing ones.

Members of the National Coalition for Educational Facilities met here, outside Atlanta, last week to discuss strategy at a conference of the Council of Educational Facility Planners International. The facility planners' group helped establish the coalition at a meeting last spring.

The coalition has started a public-awareness campaign and is pressing for state and federal funding increases for school construction and renovation, leaders of the effort said last week.

The coalition also plans to assess the condition of school buildings in all states and to establish a clearinghouse for information and research on educational facilities.

Experts on educational-facility design meeting here said they have drawn inspiration from calls for school reform. They noted that they have prepared blueprints for new structures designed to accommodate computer-aided teaching, more individualized instruction, and other educational approaches favored by reformers.

But all too often, they said, new educational programs are being placed in the same old school buildings, with the same leaky roofs, the same crowded classrooms, and the same outdated designs.

"The physical condition of educational facilities is inadequate to house the teaching and learning process," contended Lee Brockway, the outgoing president of the facility planners' group and the new chairman of the national coalition.

Tony J. Wall, the executive director of the facility planners' organization, said the coalition is trying to spread the message that "the myth that a good teacher can teach anywhere and be successful is just that--a myth."

National Leadership Sought

Mr. Wall said the need for the new coalition was made even more evident by a report issued last week by one of the coalition's members, the American Association of School Administrators. (See related story, page 1.)

The A.A.S.A.'s nationwide survey of superintendents, which found that one in eight schools provides a poor learning environment, also confirmed that most of the traditional sources of funding for school construction are running low and that the resulting gap is putting pressure on schools to cut from their maintenance budgets for existing facilities.

School districts, while locked into tight budgets, are being faced with declining revenues, climbing enrollments, and rising costs for supplies, utilities, and litigation, the A.A.S.A. report says.

'Leadership Void'

Meanwhile, the report states, "at the federal level and in most states, there is a serious leadership void in providing schools with facility guidance."

The U.S. Education Department has no program for school facilities, and the Bush Administration and most state governors have largely ignored the need for new facilities in issuing their calls for education reform, leaders of the facilities coalition said last week.

Noting that President Bush and the governors have called for American students to be first in the world in science achievement by the year 2000, Mr. Wall said: "It cannot happen. The new science facilities that we have to build have not been planned, designed, or constructed."

"As of today," he continued, the President "is at least three years behind schedule to get those new buildings built."

"Until Washington makes a commitment to the schools that are being built being on the cutting edge of technology and being able to use that technology in instructional ways," Mr. Wall argued, "schools are going to continue to be antiquated."

At the local level, conference-goers said, school districts have found the public unwilling to support extensive, long-term school-construction and remodeling efforts. In place of such a concerted approach, they said, districts have turned to making short-term, incremental improvements in school buildings.

"They have to have growth in little bits and pieces," said Franklin Hill, a prominent school architect based in Kirkland, Wash. He called incremental school- improvement programs "incredibly wasteful."

Outgrowth of June Meeting

The coalition for educational facilities originated at a national conference on facilities held last June by the Council of Educational Facility Planners International, the National Governors' Association, and the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The national coalition, which held its first meeting in September, is creating a network of universities willing to share information on educational-facilities research.

The N.G.A. has not formally joined the coalition because it does not lobby at the state level. But the list of organizations that have become part of the effort includes the A.A.s.A., the American Institute of Architects, the Council of Chief State School Officers, and the National School Boards Association.

Mr. Wall of the facility planners' group said the coalition is modeled largely on the Coalition for Adequate School Housing, or CASH, a California organization formed to promote spending on school construction in the wake of Proposition 13, which capped property taxes in the state.

Kelvin Lee, the superintendent of the Dry Creek (Calif.) Joint Elementary School District and a leader of CASH, said at the meeting last week that the California coalition has about 600 members and an annual budget of more than $450,000.

It "has really begun to flex its muscle," he said.

Vol. 11, Issue 13, Page 13

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