Rising to New Heights

The amount of education construction put in place by the nation's schools and universities reached a record high in 1996-overcoming five years of stagnant activity to approach $18.20 billion. The six percent increase in total construction spending, which includes new facilities, modernization and retrofit, and additions to existing buildings, was fueled by a significant increase in new construction, according to American School & University's 23rd annual Official Education Construction Report.

Education facilities have received their share of attention over the years, but 1996 saw a flood of interest concerning the environment in which children learn. From local communities to the White House, a fervor resulted in a scramble to find money to improve the nation's education infrastructure. And from all the signs, the interest will not wane anytime soon. Education construction is projected to be very active well into the future.

Where the money is being spent Construction of new school buildings skyrocketed 31 percent in 1996 to $4.92 billion from $3.76 billion in 1995. The push to meet burgeoning enrollments, replace crumbling buildings, and address evolving program and technology demands are primary reasons for the increase.

Total school construction spending grew by five percent to $10.96 billion from $10.42 billion in 1995. The increase reverses a trend that was beginning to develop-spending on school construction was on a downward slide over the past two years.

Although new school construction posted record high numbers, it only accounted for 45 percent of all school construction. The remainder was spent on adding to and modernizing existing schools. This is no surprise. School districts historically have had an easier time securing dollars for modernization, retrofit and additions than for totally new construction, which traditionally carries a much higher price tag.

Both 4-year- and 2-year-college construction increased in 1996. Four-year institutions spent $5.48 billion (a nine percent increase from 1995) and 2-year colleges spent $1.75 billion (a three percent increase from 1995) on construction. As is typical with colleges, the majority of dollars are dedicated to totally new buildings. In fact, 66 percent of the dollars spent on construction by 4-year colleges were for new facilities; 2-year colleges spent 63 percent of their dollars on new buildings.

Conducting the survey In November 1996, a detailed questionnaire was mailed to chief business officers at the nation's school districts and colleges. The survey instrument basically asked two questions: -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, modernization or addition), and the expected completion date. All respondents involved with new and retrofit construction were asked to provide additional information on each project. Responses were separated by institution type, region of the country and institution size, and projected across the education universe. Usable responses were received from 14 percent of school districts, 14 percent of 2-year colleges and 13 percent of 4-year institutions.

The big picture Table 1 summarizes the basic findings of the Official Education Construction Report. Total construction put in place by the nation's schools and universities approached $18.20 billion in 1996. Approximately 53 percent ($9.64 billion) was spent on new construction. This is the first time since 1983 that new buildings made up more than 50 percent of total education construction expenditures. Of the remaining dollars spent, additions to existing schools made up 22 percent ($4.00 billion) and modernizations accounted for 25 percent ($4.56 billion).

The largest portion of total education construction spending is done by school districts. Of the $10.96 billion worth of school construction put in place in 1996, 45 percent ($4.92 billion) was for new facilities, 30 percent ($3.33 billion) for additions to existing buildings and 25 percent ($2.71 billion) for modernizations.

Colleges increased their construction spending in 1996 by eight percent to $7.24 billion from $6.72 billion in 1995. New buildings accounted for 65 percent ($4.72 billion) of the construction dollars. The remainder was spent on modernizations (25 percent or $1.84 billion) and additions to existing buildings (10 percent or $673 million).

Looking to the future Table 2 examines the amount and type of construction projected to be put in place over the next three years (1997-99). The totals are much more optimistic than what was reported by administrators last year. Over the next three years, the nation's schools and universities project to spend $50.46 billion on construction.

School districts expect to put in place $31.70 billion worth of construction through 1999-and 50 percent of it will be for new facilities. Additions to existing buildings will account for 30 percent and modernizations will make up the remaining 20 percent of the projected amount.

Colleges project to put in place $18.75 billion worth of projects over the next three years. Four-year colleges expect to spend $14.85 billion and 2-year institutions are anticipating spending $3.90 billion on construction. As is traditionally the case, the vast majority of the dollars spent by colleges will be spent on new construction. More than 67 percent of 4-year- college and 73 percent of 2-year-college construction will be on new buildings.

Historically, school and university administrators have underestimated the amount of construction expected to be accomplished in future years. For example, in 1995, school administrators expected to put in place $10.03 billion worth of construction in 1996. However, $10.96 billion actually was spent-translating into an almost 10 percent increase over anticipated spending.

Colleges also traditionally underestimate. In 1995, $6.08 billion was expected to be spent on 2-year- and 4-year-college construction in 1996. The amount actually spent in 1996, however, was 19 percent higher than what was projected it would be in 1995-reaching $7.24 billion.

Keeping this in mind, the amount of education construction that will be put in place in the future most likely will exceed the projected numbers reported here. This is a good thing, since the need to build and repair facilities will escalate exponentially in future years.

Table 3 looks at the amount and type of education construction put in place over the past five years. The increase in spending in 1996 comes after successive years of level spending on construction.

Where construction is taking place Table 4 examines hot spots of education construction activity and reports expenditures in each of the nation's 10 regions (refer to map on page 16). The table is broken down by school districts, 4-year colleges, 2-year institutions and all education.

Among the findings, significant construction activity in certain regions of the country account for the majority of spending in all segments of education. For example, three regions were responsible for 55 percent of all education construction activity in 1996. Regions 5 (Great Lakes states), 9 (West Coast) and 4 (Southeast) repeated the robust spending on facilities that was posted in 1995, when these three regions put in place almost 50 percent of all education construction.

These same three regions, plus Region 6 (South Central), did two-thirds of all school construction in 1996. Much of the activity in these regions can be attributed to the influx of school-age children and/or the need to spend considerable dollars to improve an older education infrastructure.

The vast majority of college construction in 1996 was concentrated in just three regions of the country. Regions 5, 9 and 4 showed their dominance by putting in place 58 percent of all 4-year-college construction and 65 percent of all 2-year-college construction.

Overall, Region 5 topped the list as the single most active constructing region, putting in place $4.59 billion worth of education facilities. The second most active region was Region 9, which spent $2.77 billion, followed closely by Region 4, which put in place $2.67 billion worth of construction.

When looking at construction activity, it is helpful to ascertain how the money was spent. Table 5 details construction put in place by region of the country and is broken down by spending on new facilities and the amount allocated for additions and modernizations.

For example, although Region 5 was the most active constructing region in 1996, 52 percent of the dollars were spent on adding to and modernizing existing buildings. On the other hand, the other two big constructing regions-Region 9 and Region 4-spent 75 percent and 64 percent, respectively, on totally new facilities. Other regions spending more than 50 percent of their dollars on new construction include Regions 6 (50 percent), 7 (59 percent) and 10 (66 percent).

For those interested in knowing how the school construction dollars were split, Table 6 has the results. School districts in regions 4, 7, 9 and 10 spent more than 50 percent of their construction dollars on new facilities. Additions to and modernization of existing buildings were the predominant forms of construction in Regions 1 and 2.

Breaking down future projections Table 7 examines construction by region over the next three years for school districts, 2-year colleges, 4-year institutions and all education. Region 5 is projected to put in place the most education construction through 1999.

Approximately $13.86 billion is expected to be spent, which is more than double what the next most active region is projecting it will spend.

Region 4-which projects $6.47 billion will be spent over the next three years-is the second most active constructing region, followed by Region 3 ($5.37 billion) and Region 6 ($5.35 billion). These four regions will account for 62 percent of all education construction through 1999.

Table 8 looks at how the school construction dollars are projected to be split over the next three years. The same four regions (5, 4, 6 and 3) that will be doing the majority of all education construction also are expected to do the bulk of all school construction (63 percent). New construction will account for more than 50 percent of the money spent on facilities through 1999 in Regions 4 (60 percent), 6 (56 percent), 7 (68 percent), 8 (67 percent), 9 (61 percent) and 10 (64 percent).

Anatomy of a new school Tables 9 and 10 dissect costs, amenities and other elements of new school buildings. Among the findings: -The median public elementary school is constructed for 600 pupils, provides 114 square feet per student, costs $110.57 per square foot for a total price of $7.1 million. Compared to last year's survey, today's elementary schools are being built for more students, provide more square feet, and cost more than schools constructed in 1995. -The median public middle school is built for 800 students, provides 150 square feet per pupil, costs $108.59 per square foot for a total cost of $12.2 million. Much like elementary schools, today's middle schools are larger and cost more to construct. -A typical high school built in 1996 accommodates 900 students, provides 160 square feet per pupil, costs $109.09 per square foot for a total price of $16 million. Cost per square foot and average number of pupils the school is built for dipped slightly compared to last year's numbers, while square feet provided per student and total cost increased.

In addition, the survey examines the type of special facilities included in new elementary, middle and high schools, as well as the percentage of schools reporting such facilities. It also compares current information with data from 1994 and 1995.

For most of the items surveyed, no significant changes are evident from year to year. The most noticeable trend involves the incidence of computer centers and library/media centers. While more middle and high schools are being built without these facilities, more elementary schools are including these spaces in their new construction. One reason for the trend is that elementary schools typically include centralized computer centers and library/media centers into the educational program. Middle and high schools are becoming less centralized in their use of these facilities, moving instead to bringing more technology into the classroom.

Air conditioning and carpeting in new school buildings are common occurrences. In 1996, new elementary and middle schools air-conditioned 88 percent of their space; high schools incorporated it into 86 percent. Besides the middle-school percentage, which remained steady, both elementary and high schools increased their use of air conditioning from what was reported last year.

In elementary schools, the use of carpeting in 1996 held fairly steady compared to last year's percentage. Carpeting's use in new middle and high schools, however, grew to 60 percent and 40, respectively, from 46 percent and 36 percent last year.

First-time data on retrofits Each year, AS&U receives questions from readers, as well as local, state and federal agencies, requesting data on what a median school retrofit costs. Arriving at comparable data in regards to these types of projects is very difficult, at best, because each project is so different-where one school may consider interior painting and carpet replacement a typical retrofit, another may only view a total building modernization as fitting into this category.

Keeping these limitations in mind, this year's survey attempted to gather data on the types of retrofits put in place by school districts and colleges in 1996, as well as their related costs. In Table 11, medians are provided for elementary, middle and high school retrofits; Table 12 details information on college projects.

The predominant forms of facility retrofits at both school districts and colleges are ADA compliance; electric, HVAC and lighting upgrades; flooring, window and door replacement; painting; roofing; and technology infrastructure improvements.

As mentioned earlier, use the retrofit data with extreme caution. Because the definition of a typical retrofit varies so greatly from one institution to the next, these numbers should be used more for informational purposes than as a comparative database. The figures are intended primarily to determine the types of retrofits educational institutions are putting in place and the percentage of schools that are implementing them.

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.