In 2014 construction spending by schools and universities grew to 77 billion Photo courtesy of ThinkStock.

In 2014, construction spending by schools and universities grew to $77 billion.

Strategies for Success: Build Smart

Schools and universities across the nation are experiencing an acute need for renovation and alteration to their facilities and grounds. Five trends are affecting education institutions’ construction calendars:

  • Increasing enrollment
  • Aging facilities
  • Modernization
  • Security upgrades
  • Sustainability efforts

These five trends are the critical causes behind most planned school and university renovations today. One component that each of these trends has in common is the need to plan, procure and complete the project quickly and within the school’s scheduling needs. The Job Order Contracting (JOC) construction procurement method allows schools and universities of all sizes to purchase and expedite their repair, renovation and alteration projects, so more work can be accomplished in a timeframe that does not disrupt students or staff.

In 2014, construction spending by schools and universities grew to $77 billion. This is up from 2013 construction spending at $74.8 billion, but down from a high of $104.9 billion in 2008. The United States is home to over 13,500 public school districts, comprised of more than 98,000 buildings for elementary and secondary schools. Likewise, there are more than 174,800 buildings in the more than 4,700 colleges, junior colleges and 2- and 4-year universities in the United States. With so many buildings to maintain and upgrade, the education sector needs a procurement solution that can quickly respond and skillfully adapt to the changing needs of these facilities.

JOC is an indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity procurement method, enabling facility owners, such as school or university administrators, to complete a large number of renovation and alteration projects with a single, competitively-bid contract. The traditional bidding process can take too long, especially when it comes to high profile or time-sensitive projects in which worsening conditions can occur. JOC eliminates the time, expense and administrative burden of completing the normal design-bid-build cycle for each project, thus delivering quality construction faster and more cost-effectively. JOC is an ideal tool to fit the needs of the academic calendar as it is a flexible, streamlined process that minimizes delays. Many schools and universities have turned to the JOC process for their repair, renovation or straightforward construction projects, such as ADA upgrades, energy efficient lighting installation or dormitory renovations.

The first major cause for construction at academic facilities is increased student enrollment. In 2015, enrollment in K-12 schools eclipsed previous highs to reach 55.9 million students. This upward progression is expected to continue over the next few years, to a projected 58.4 million in 2021. College enrollment will also see an increase of 14 percent over the next decade, soaring from 20.6 million in 2014 to 23.5 million in 2022. More students means a need for expansion or reorganization of facilities and infrastructure. This could take the form of the addition of new parking lots, renovating offices into classrooms or adding on to existing facilities. 

The next leading cause for construction is the nation’s aging facilities.

The median age of U.S. public school buildings is 42 years old. In fact, 45 percent of school buildings were built between 1950 and 1969 to serve the burgeoning Baby Boom generation—the same generation that is retiring today. In higher education, campus construction backlogs are causing college and university facilities to approach the $100 per gross square foot mark, which is a level experts cite as a point where maintenance efforts are no longer proactive. These aging facilities require more extensive updating to bring them to good condition. Projects may include updating the HVAC system, roof replacements, interior and exterior renovations, and electrical upgrades.

A trend many schools and universities find that requires alterations and upgrades is preparing for modernization. Decades ago, school facilities may not have had a computer room. Now, buildings must be equipped to accommodate the digital age. Classrooms, libraries and dormitories must be updated to fit computers and mobile devices, or be reconfigured to serve those involved in distance education programs.

Security has also been a concern as of late. Educational facilities from elementary schools to college campuses are taking measures to improve security, with the installation of surveillance cameras and emergency communication systems, the renovation of secure entryways for visitors, and the addition of locks and reinforced doors. Security improvements can extend to school grounds and college campuses, with exterior fencing, parking lot improvements and landscaping that helps to keep the perimeter safe.

More and more, schools and universities are implementing sustainable solutions. Energy efficiency measures include changing out interior and exterior lighting, updating mechanical and electrical systems to more efficient models, installing solar panels, and even planting gardens on rooftops to help with cooling or stormwater runoff.

When it comes to updates, upgrades and renovation, the nation’s schools and universities are moving toward greener, more secure and more technologically-savvy spaces. These five trends point to the future of educational facilities—a future that is near when using JOC to streamline the construction procurement process and get these measures completed more quickly.

Cook is the Director of Southeast Operations for The Gordian Group, where he oversees Job Order Contracting solution development, implementation and support for Miami-Dade County Public Schools in Florida, Georgetown University and Pennsylvania State University, among others. Mr. Cook previously served as a lead project manager for the New York City Department of Education. 

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