Building for the Boom: The 27th Annual Official Education Construction Report

NOTE: This file contains only the text of the May 2001 article on the 27th Annual Official Education Construction Report. To view or download the entire article, including charts and tables, click here.

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A revitalized interest in education facilities sparked a record $36 billion in spending on school and university construction in 2000. And over the next three years, spending on new facilities, additions and modernization of existing buildings will continue to reach new heights, according to American School & University's 27th annual Official Education Construction Report.

School districts took advantage of a more receptive economy and environment to put in place a record $21.5 billion in construction last year. Construction of totally new school buildings represented 53 percent of the spending — the first time in 20 years spending on new construction has made up more than 50 percent of total K-12 construction spending.

Colleges and universities also capitalized on an environment that was conducive to construction. They spent more than $14.7 billion on new facilities, additions and modernization of existing buildings. A concerted effort by higher-education institutions to address their physical infrastructure needs has resulted in a rapid rise in college construction spending over the past two years.

DISSECTING THE DATA

The all-time-high $36 billion in construction spending completed in 2000 by America's schools and universities represents a 21 percent increase over the previous record posted in 1999. Spending by elementary and secondary schools ballooned almost 35 percent over the previous year, topping $21.5 billion. Colleges and universities reported a more modest 5 percent increase in construction spending over the previous year, exceeding $14.7 billion in 2000.

Primary findings of the Official Education Construction Report can be found in Table 1 (p. 26). (• Get more data here: Total number of projects completed) Construction of totally new facilities accounted for 53 percent of the spending by all education institutions. New construction spending topped $19.1 billion in 2000, followed by $12.2 billion for major modernization and $4.9 billion for additions to existing buildings.

School districts continue to account for the majority of education-construction spending (almost 60 percent). More than $21.5 billion worth of construction was completed in 2000. Elementary and secondary schools ramped up the amount of new-building construction last year, completing more than $11.5 billion in projects (almost doubling the amount put in place in 1999).

Additions and modernization of existing schools made up less than 50 percent of K-12 spending. The nation's school districts spent $5.9 billion on modernization projects and $4.1 billion on additions to existing buildings in 2000. (• Get more data here: Spending breakouts)

Colleges and universities posted a healthy $14.7 billion worth of construction last year, with 52 percent of the spending on totally new facilities. The move to balance new-construction spending with additions and modernization is a welcome sign. Historically, higher-education institutions dedicate a much larger portion of available construction dollars to building new facilities as opposed to improving existing facilities.

With enrollment expected to continue growing through at least the end of this decade, colleges and universities are boosting construction spending to better address, among other things, their space needs. Higher-education institutions put in place $7.6 billion worth of new construction, $6.2 billion in modernization projects and $900 million in additions to existing buildings.

WHAT THE FUTURE HOLDS

With an optimistic eye to the future, education administrators at both school districts and higher-education institutions project that they will put in place more than $118 billion worth of construction over the next three years (2001-03).

The amount and type of construction projected to be put in place through 2003, as well as a breakout of data by type of institution and type of spending, is detailed in Table 2. Even with a depressed economy, administrators remain bullish on construction spending — most of the funding for projects planned over the next three years is already in place. (• Get more data here: Total number of projects planned)

School districts will account for roughly 71 percent of the anticipated construction spending through 2003, totaling slightly more than $84.3 billion. Approximately 49 percent of the dollars will be for new construction ($41.4 billion), while an impressive $33 billion will be spent on improving the condition of existing facilities. Additions will make up the remaining amount ($9.9 billion).

Colleges and universities, while still optimistic, project that the rapid spending increases of the past two years will slow somewhat. Over the next three years, higher-education institutions expect to put in place $34.3 billion worth of construction. Approximately 62 percent will be spent on new buildings ($21.2 billion), $11 billion of modernization and $2.1 billion on additions.

The amount and type of education construction completed by institution type over the past 10 years is examined in Table 3. (• Get more data here: 27 years of construction spending) The accelerated construction spending over the past five years is evidence that the dialogue on improving the nation's education infrastructure is gaining supporters.

BREAKING IT OUT BY REGION

Where is the construction happening? Table 4 details where construction is taking place across the nation and reports expenditures in each of the nation's 10 regions (see map on p. 28). Data are broken out by school districts, higher-education institutions and all education.

More than half (54 percent) of all education construction completed in 2000 took place in four regions of the country: Region 9 (South West), Region 6 (South Central), Region 2 (New Jersey and New York), and Region 4 (South East). (• Get more data here: New building comparisons)

Fifty-five percent of the K-12 construction in 2000 took place in four regions of the country. While Regions 6 and 4 also showed up on this list, Regions 8 (Mountain states) and 5 (Great Lakes states) posted significant numbers.

The college construction picture saw three regions account for more than 50 percent of the construction in 2000. The most active college-construction region was Region 9, which completed $3.6 billion worth of projects. Following Region 9 was Region 2 ($2.6 billion) and Region 1 ($1.6 billion). When Region 4's $1.5 billion in spending is added, almost two-thirds of all college construction took place in these four regions.

Table 5 (p. 30) documents the type of education construction completed in 2000. Spending is broken out by region, type of spending, and percentage of dollars allocated to new buildings and additions/modernization. Seven regions spent a larger percentage of their construction dollars on totally new buildings. Only three regions (2, 3 and 4) spent more than half of their dollars on additions and modernization projects. (• Get more data here: Regional comparisons)

How school district construction dollars were split in 2000 is outlined in Table 6 (p. 30). Spending is broken out by region, as well as by the percentage of dollars earmarked for new, addition and modernization projects. Six of the seven regions that spent more than half of their construction dollars on totally new facilities in Table 5 also did so at the school-district level. Region 9, which spent more than half of its dollars on new construction when school and university spending is combined, only allocated 43 percent to new facilities when just K-12 facilities are examined.

Table 7 (p. 30) details how the college and university construction dollars were spent in 2000. Broken out by region, the table shows the percentage of dollars allocated to new, addition and modernization projects. Much like school districts, seven regions spent a larger percentage of their construction dollars on new facilities. Regions 1, 2 and 3 put the bulk of their dollars toward adding to or modernizing existing facilities.

FUTURE HOT SPOTS OF ACTIVITY

Projected spending by region on construction through 2003 by school districts, colleges and universities, and all education is found in Table 8 (p. 32).

The nation's education administrators anticipate completing more than $118 billion worth of construction over the next three years. Almost 50 percent of all education construction will take place in just three regions of the country. Regions 5, 2 and 4 expect to put in place $57.6 billion in projects. Region 5 will be the most active construction region, projecting to spend $21 billion. The next most active region will be Region 2 ($19 billion) followed by Region 4 ($17.6 billion). (• Get more data here: Projected construction by type of spending)

Table 9 (p. 32) outlines how the school construction dollars through 2003 will be split. More than $84 billion in elementary and secondary school construction is anticipated over the next three years. The same three regions (5, 4 and 2) that will be doing the majority of all education construction also are expected to do more than half of all school construction (56 percent). The most active region (2), which is made up of only two states, will complete $17 billion in projects through 2003.

How the college and university construction dollars will be split over the next three years is detailed in Table 10 (p. 32). More than $34 billion in projects will be put in place over this time. Almost 50 percent of higher-education construction will take place in just three regions (3, 9 and 5). Region 3 (Mid-Atlantic states) will be the most active region, completing almost $6.3 billion in projects. Region 9 follows closely with $6.1 billion.

IT'S IN THE DETAILS

A variety of cost data and facility features for the median new elementary, middle and high school is found in Table 11 (p. 34). For example:

  • The median new public elementary school houses 504 pupils, provides 118 square feet per student, and costs $152.82 per square foot for a total price of $7.9 million. At an average size of 59,264 square feet, it contains 32 classrooms.

  • The median new public middle school is built for 629 students, provides 119 square feet per pupil, and costs $135.90 per square foot for a total cost of $10.7 million. With 31 classrooms, the average size of the typical middle school is 77,723 square feet.

  • The median new public high school accommodates 830 students, provides 114 square feet per pupil, and costs $158.68 per square foot for a total price of $15.1 million. At an average size of 90,790 square feet, it contains 36 classrooms.

A more detailed analysis of regional costs and features of new elementary, middle and high schools can be found on p. 38-39. (• Get more data here: Facilities featured in new schools)

The most expensive areas to build new schools are Region 1 (elementary), Region 2 (middle) and Region 9 (high). The least expensive areas to construct new K-12 facilities are Region 7 (elementary), Region 6 (middle) and Region 10 (high).

Areas of the country that build the largest schools (total square footage) are Region 5 (elementary), Region 1 (middle) and Region 6 (high). The smallest new school facilities are built in Region 9 (elementary), Region 6 (middle) and Region 10 (high).

Air conditioning continues to be a common feature in new school and university facilities; carpeting use continues to decline (see sidebar on p. 27). Roughly 84 percent of space in new elementary schools, 77 percent in new middle schools, and 84 percent in new high schools is air-conditioned. Colleges and universities air-condition 83 percent of their new space.

The percentage of new K-12 space being carpeted has been on the decline for the past four years. Approximately 46 percent of new elementary, 29 percent of new middle and 22 percent of new high school space is carpeted. Colleges and universities, however, have slightly increased the percentage of new space carpeted over the past two years — after three years of declines. On average, colleges carpeted 47 percent of their new space in 2000. (• Get more data here: Evolution of the school facility)

MODERNIZATION DETAILS

Data on the types of retrofits performed in 2000 by schools and universities, their related costs, average size of projects and type of cabling/wiring implemented is found in Table 12(p. 40).

Comparing data on retrofits can be extremely difficult and should be undertaken with caution. For example, while one school may consider repainting and carpet replacement as a retrofit, another may only consider a total building modernization as meeting the requirement. Your retrofit costs may vary greatly depending on the size, scope and type of project, as well as your region of the country.

The median high school modernization project retrofitted 86,894 square feet of space in 2000, while the typical middle school upgraded 54,070 square feet and the median elementary school 31,093. Costs ranged from $2 million per project (high school) to $3.7 million (middle school). For colleges and universities, the median project encompassed 41,731 square feet and cost $4.3 million.

Both schools and universities report electric, HVAC and lighting improvements as the most often performed retrofit projects.

SIDEBAR: Carpeting and comfort systems

In most instances, both air conditioning and carpeting were included in fewer new education construction projects than in years past, according to American School & University's 27th annual Official Education Construction Report. The incidence of air-conditioning and carpeting in educational facilities:

  • Elementary schools air condition 84 percent of their new space and carpet 46 percent of their floors.

  • Middle schools air-condition 77 percent of their new space and carpet 29 percent of their floors.

  • High schools air-condition 84 percent of their new space and carpet 22 percent of their floors.

  • Colleges and universities air-condition 83 percent of their new space and carpet 47 percent of their floors.

About this report

As the bellwether report documenting education construction activity for the past 27 years, the American School & University survey is regularly referenced by local, state and federal agencies, as well as the nation's leading news organizations. AS&U actually started compiling data on school and university construction in 1950 for the 1949 year. After a decade or so of yearly surveys, data began being compiled sporadically until industry demand prompted AS&U to resume collecting data annually. The annual reports resurfaced in 1975 with information on education construction completed in 1974, and data has been collected and published every year since. AS&U is the only authorized source of this information.

Editor's Note: Survey methodology

To arrive at results for the 27th annual Official Education Construction Report, a detailed questionnaire was mailed in December 2000 to chief business officers at the nation's school districts and colleges. Basically, two questions were asked:

  • Did you complete any construction during the past year?

  • Will you complete any construction in the next three years?

Administrators answering “yes” to either question were then asked to provide a variety of details on the amount being spent, the type of construction being done (new, addition or modernization), and the expected completion date. All respondents involved with new and retrofit construction were asked to provide additional information on each project. Further follow-up calls were made to clarify some data. Responses were separated by institution type, region of the country and institution size, and projected across the education universe.


Agron is editor-in-chief of AS&U; he can be reached at [email protected].

For information on obtaining the complete report, call (913)967-1960 or e-mail [email protected].

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