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Classroom Construction Goes Up

Communities use new strategies to build and finance multi-use and convertible designs. SCHOOL BUILDING TRENDS

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IT'S like a flashback to the '50s in some communities: Changing demographics, including classrooms brimming with baby boomers' kids, are spurring a school construction rush. But unlike a generation ago, when schools mushroomed quickly and cheaply, school districts now are forced to be more creative in planning and paying for new schools. In the past several years, ``there has been more entrepreneurial spirit in design, construction, and financing of schools,'' says Tony J. Wall, executive director of the Council of Educational Facility Planners, an organization based in Columbus, Ohio. With school construction stakes so high, he says, ``one of the keys for new school buildings is they have to provide options.''

Nationwide, school construction increased nearly 50 percent between 1982 and '86, according to the United States Census Bureau. Much of the new building is happening in rapidly expanding exurbs, where new residential housing has created the demand for more schools. For example, since 1985, Maryland's Montgomery County school district outside of Washington has built 11 schools, and expects to build 21 more by 1993.

One concept making a comeback in fast-growing communities, where taxpayers are feeling the burden of new schools and services, is joint use of school facilities. In the '60s, as part of the community-schools movement, a few model, joint-use schools dedicated space and shared operating costs with community agencies and social services.

A 1986 report from the National Governors Association Task Force on School Facilities predicted that multiple use of school buildings was the wave of the future. The report noted that 40 states have provisions for interagency sharing of schools. At least one, Florida, offers special incentives: The state pays up to half the cost for schools that will be used by other government agencies, a provision that will defray school building costs by $25 million this year, says H.J. Schroeer, the state's director of educational facilities.

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