Opportunity Knocks

Education construction remained strong in 2002, despite a weak economy, geopolitical uncertainties, and severe budget shortfalls at the state and local level.

In fact, spending on new facilities by both the nation's school districts and colleges hit an all-time high in 2002. This record level of new construction brings with it a unique opportunity for administrators and planners: the chance to create exemplary learning environments — from the planning stages to the specification and use of materials — resulting in a crop of model schools that will serve generations of students effectively for years to come.

Why is it so important that we take advantage of this opportunity? All we have to do is look at a majority of the nation's school buildings, especially those built in the “baby boom” years of the 1950s and 1960s — where the unofficial motto was “get it up cheap and get it up fast” — to see what happens when careless planning and shoddy materials are used to build schools. We've been paying for this shortsightedness for decades, and millions of schoolchildren remain stuck in dilapidated facilities that are unsafe and need to be retired well before their intended time. We can, and must, do better.

Another issue that is vital as institutions increase their spending on new facilities is site selection, and ensuring the location of a new school does not result in a future catastrophe. Bad site selection has been given a new level of notoriety with the Los Angeles school district's Belmont Learning Complex. But Los Angeles is not alone — thousands of education institutions sit on or near landfills and other potentially hazardous sites.

This month's cover story takes a look at this important piece of the construction puzzle, and offers strategies to ensure the site of your next new facility will not end up a costly and potentially hazardous mistake.

The amount of new education construction planned over the next few years provides an exciting opportunity to build a new generation of education facilities that incorporate the best principles in planning and design, thorough site evaluation, environmental awareness, and that use superior products and materials that produce the best “life-cycle” cost. The result will be an exceptional learning environment that will serve the community longer — and end up costing much less over the life of the building.

SCORECARD

$40.5
BILLION

Amount spent in 2002 by the nation's education institutions on construction of new facilities, additions and modernization.

$24.3
BILLION

Amount spent by the nation's school districts on construction in 2002 — $11.7 billion of which was for totally new facilities, an all-time high.

$16.2
BILLION

Amount spent by the nation's colleges and universities on construction in 2002 — $10.8 billion of which was for totally new facilities, an all-time high.

$148.8
BILLION

Amount the nation's education institutions project will be spent over the next three years on construction — 63 percent of which will be totally new facilities.

$93.7
BILLION

Amount school districts expect to spend on new construction, additions and modernization through 2005 — 55 percent of which will be totally new facilities.

$55
BILLION

Amount colleges and universities project to spend on construction through 2005 — 76 percent of which will be totally new facilities.

Source: American School & University's 29th annual Official Education Construction Report (see p. 29)

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