School Climate & Safety

School Construction in U.S. Tops $15 Billion

By Bess Keller — February 17, 1999 2 min read

Public school districts poured a record $15 billion into construction last year, and the upward trend is likely to continue for at least a few more years, an annual study of industry trends shows.

“It’s exciting to see all the construction and all the attention paid to accommodating technology,” said Jane Lieberth, the editor of School Planning and Management magazine, which published the survey this month.

Districts erected new schools, added to existing ones, and completed major upgrades of their facilities to the tune of $15.46 billion in 1998--almost $3 billion above the previous year’s sum, according to the report.

Just over half the money was spent on new schools, while a little over 25 percent went to additions to existing buildings and about 24 percent to renovation.

School leaders surveyed said that during 1999 they planned to complete more than $16 billion in construction projects and start more than $17 billion.

School construction completed in 1998:
New buildings 57.9 billion
Additions 3.9 billion
Retrofit 3.7 billion
Total $15.5 billion
SOURCE: “School Planning and Management.”

The report gives several reasons for the boom: surging enrollments, a healthy economy, recognition of voter interest in education, and a perception that improvements in school facilities are needed.

More for New Schools

From 1983 through 1995, close to 60 percent of public school construction money was spent on existing buildings, the report notes. But over the past three years, with enrollment soaring, a little more than half has been spent on new schools.

The reporting service School Construction Alert, of the Wall Street firm Dun & Bradstreet, conducted the study in conjunction with the Dayton, Ohio-based magazine.

The survey involved every U.S. school district. Paul Abramson, the editorial director of the magazine, analyzed the data.

Last year, more money went to high schools than to elementary or middle schools, though elementary schools ran a close second, the report notes.

National medians:
cost per square foot square foot per student number of students building cost (in millions)
Elementary $100 120.0 600 $7
Middle $100 141.7 800 $12
High $106.67 178.3 865 $18
SOURCE: “School Planning and Management.”

That apparent change from early in the decade comes as the enrollment bulge reaches high schools.

“It’s the children [of baby boomers] aging,” Ms. Lieberth said. “Also, I think high schools are getting the most money because community use of them has come into its own, and school officials can get additional money from the town.”

Nationally, the median capacities of the new buildings are 600 students for elementary schools, 800 students for middle schools, and 865 students for high schools, the report says.

A version of this article appeared in the February 17, 1999 edition of Education Week as School Construction in U.S. Tops $15 Billion

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