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European School-Construction Group Opens Its Doors to American States

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A Paris-based organization of foreign governments concerned with school-construction issues has opened its doors to participation by individual states in this country in hopes of exchanging ideas across the Atlantic.

In joining the organization, school-construction authorities from the United States may find ways to build better, cheaper facilities by emulating innovative school design and construction in Europe and elsewhere, experts on school construction say.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer of Maryland last week was seeking to make his state the first in the nation to join the Programme on Educational Building, an organization with representatives from 18 countries, most of them European, that promotes the international exchange of ideas related to school construction.

"This will allow Maryland to look at some of the things that are going on in Europe that might be adaptable here,'' said Yale Stenzler, the executive director of Maryland's inter-agency committee on school construction.

Richard Yelland, the principal administrator of the P.E.B., last week said his organization has opened its membership to participation by individual states and provinces within nations and soon would be inviting U.S. states to join.

Noting that many U.S. universities already belong to a similar international group, a spokesman for the U.S. Education Department last week said the federal agency would support Maryland's efforts to become a P.E.B. member.

"My sense is, yes, we do have a lot to learn from them over a whole wide range of things,'' Sam B. McKee, an international-education-policy specialist with the department, said of the European effort.

The P.E.B. is operated within the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, an intergovernmental agency of free-market democracies that includes the United States as a member.

Little Help From Washington

But the U.S. government has not participated in the P.E.B. because, unlike many European governments, it has little to do with the funding and construction of schools, an Education Department spokesman said last week.

Thus, while European governments often have been able to sponsor tours of innovative schools in the United States, American school-construction authorities have received little help or guidance from Washington about learning from Europe, experts on school construction say.

"We have used examples from the States, but it has not gone back the other way,'' said Mr. Yelland.

In an effort to solicit involvement in the P.E.B. from the United States, Germany, Canada, and other countries where school construction is not administered primarily by a central authority, the P.E.B.'s steering committee last November approved an associate-membership program whereby regional and local authorities could join.

Because the P.E.B. is designed simply to be an informational network and does not set standards or policies for its members, American states likely will not run afoul of the federal government by joining, an Education Department official said last week.

The P.E.B., which has an annual budget of 3 million French francs--equivalent to between $600,000 and $700,000, depending on the exchange rate--would charge the U.S. states membership fees on a sliding scale based roughly on the value of the goods they produce annually. The fees would range from between $100 to more than $8,000 annually per state, officials said.

Design Seminar Slated

Mr. Yelland pitches membership in his organization as a worthwhile investment, asserting in a recent paper that one idea picked up by an Australian province through membership in the P.E.B. saved the province about $10 million Australian.

"As a program which now involves 18 countries with a total population of 316 million,'' Mr. Yelland wrote, "P.E.B. is able to call upon a considerable amount of experience in facilities issues in a wide range of circumstances--from the sparsely populated regions of Scandinavia and Australia to the congested urban areas of England and the Netherlands, and from the polar north to the Mediterranean.''

Mr. Stenzler predicted that Maryland might learn how to design schools that are more efficient, while Mr. McKee of the federal department predicted that participation in the P.E.B. would enable states to learn from European advances in vocational education and designs for specialized secondary schools.

Mr. Yelland also predicted that the United States could learn from French innovations in distance learning, Austrian and German school designs intended to be environmentally conscious, and various Scandinavian efforts to make schools more energy-efficient or accessible to children with disabilities.

Even before seeking membership in the P.E.B., the state of Maryland began working with the organization to plan an international seminar on urban school design. The meeting is scheduled to be held in June in Baltimore and will feature architects, policymakers, and educational-facility planners from throughout the world.

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