Architects offer advice to update school designs Conference with educators highlights students' need for improved technology

November 16, 1997|By Melody Simmons | Melody Simmons,SUN STAFF

Classrooms of the 21st century should be designed to highlight technology and capture the imagination of students with life-sized murals of dinosaurs and planetariums crowning high school lecture halls, a group of leading U.S. architects said yesterday.

Such enhancements would easily spark learning in students already attuned to many facets of the cyber age -- many of whom become bored in classrooms containing little more than a chalkboard, the architects said during a daylong conference at Maryland Institute, College of Art called "Rethinking Our Schools."

The conference brought together educators and designers -- professionals whose specialties rarely connect. Yet they agreed on the day's message: the need to create learning environments where computers, personal work stations and laser disks replace notebooks, lockers and even classrooms and corridors.

"It's a tremendous opportunity to enter each other's world in terms of the mutual good," said Nancy S. Grasmick, state superintendent of schools. "We are here to project for the future as we look to build new schools and renovate older schools."

Lack of funding may slow implementation of some concepts, Grasmick admitted -- especially in Baltimore, where officials say the infrastructure repairs needed in nearly all city schools will cost millions.

Problems exist elsewhere, too. Baltimore County school spent $657,000 more than budgeted on a renovation at Deer Park Elementary School in Randallstown, an internal audit showed. And in Harford County, a fire in the boiler room of Magnolia Middle School last month caused nearly $1 million in damage.

Nationally, the problem is alarming. A study of Maine schools showed $637 million is needed to repair hundreds of schools; Florida Gov. Lawton Chiles is lobbying his state's legislature to use state lottery money to back $1.8 billion in bonds for school construction; and Knoxville, Tenn., school officials say they need $18.5 million to repair blighted schools.

Such repair bills cut into the funds available for designing schools and redesigning existing schools to accommodate a high-tech curriculum, said Fred Lazarus, president of Maryland Institute.

Grasmick called for strong community participation in school design as an element for the facility's success.

"There is no question that it will accelerate learning," she said. "And we have to figure out how to create lifelong learning so that adults will come back to learn, too."

Examples offered of successful school designs include a Los Angeles academy designed to resemble a hospital where 2,500 students study health care-related courses; a research-oriented high school in Raleigh, N.C., that offers one computer for every two students; and a lecture hall in Anchorage, Alaska, where the ceiling is used for a planetarium and the walls convert to multimedia screens.

Architect Bruce A. Jilk, who has consulted and designed learning environments in 20 states and in Austria, Australia and Germany, outlined his concept for an educational "village."

"It would be a 24-hour place," Jilk said. "You would have a school, but also a hair salon, a post office, a bike shop, food courts and a clothing store. It would create a village-like feeling and thread the community activities into the school."

C. William Day, who specializes in planning educational technology, described the classroom of the next century as one that is totally wired -- to the Internet, a video screen and a telephone in each room.

Pub Date: 11/16/97

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