Yale Stenzler has wielded extensive influence in his 30 years as director of Maryland's Interagency Committee on School Construction. He makes recommendations on how much state money should go to school districts for their construction projects. Soon after he turned 60 last year, he decided to retire. Stenzler, who will leave his position at the end of the month, answered questions from staff writer Theola Labbe{acute}.

QWhat is the relationship between a school building and learning?

AA school building can enhance and support the delivery of the educational program. And conversely, the building can inhibit or prevent [it]. . . . If a high school student wants to take a physics program and the room they're in was built in 1951, obviously that student is not going to have the same experience as someone who has more modern facilities.

What is the most important thing for schools to keep in mind as they design and build their buildings?

To understand their program, what they want to do in the building. . . . It's not a question of simply taking the building and saying, "Okay, let's make another one like that." The person has to sit down and really analyze what the needs are.

You've had to listen to school officials and politicians from every county come and ask for school construction money. Every year, sometimes all year. Do you ever get sick of the wheedling?

I don't look at it as whining. . . . We have worked with every system to try and approve every project, and we leave it up to them to justify it. Where we have raised questions or concerns, it's up to them to answer those questions and remove those concerns and problems. In some cases, that doesn't happen, and the projects aren't approved.

Since you recommend which district gets what, surely you've been seen as the bad guy over the years?

I hope not. I hope I've been seen as someone who's been fair. . . . It's never "No" with a nasty "No," it's "No, because . . ."

How has school construction changed since you first started?

There's more of an emphasis on providing appropriate programs for students with disabilities . . . pre-kindergarten programs in the schools . . . English as a second language. We have computers and computer labs, which were not here in 1972. The change in approach of instruction from a teacher mostly standing in front of the class, and students responding, to more hands-on activities at every level. We've gone away from the open-space school.

So the building has, therefore, changed to be able to enhance and support the programs and services. There's a greater number of square feet per pupil required to support the program. . . . Buildings are much more colorful than what they used to be. . . . Another major factor is the actual cost of construction has significantly changed and gotten higher.

What is your most exciting or interesting memory?

Working with Governor [William Donald] Schaefer to initiate the Look of the Future high school science renovation program. We renovated 100 outdated high school science facilities to make them modern. The other one was Governor Glendening, on the technology in Maryland schools, which enabled us to provide funds to wire every school in the state for voice, video and data communication systems. Those are two that I think are significant programs. They affected literally hundreds of schools and thousands of students, and it's more than just funding or recommendation of funds.

As your replacement comes in, it seems the job is very difficult now because state money is tight and districts have a lot of needs. How severe a situation does the successor in this job face?

We have been able, in the past several years, to provide such a significant amount of funds for public school construction projects that dropping back may be a little hard to digest. But I think that everyone will understand that there are limitations and [will have] to adjust the request accordingly.