2000 Construction Report

College construction in the United States has been rolling along at a relatively steady pace through the last five years, with construction put in place ranging from a low of $5.8 billion in 1997 to a high of $6.8 billion in 1999 (see Table 1). It does, however, appear to be picking up a little steam with colleges projecting as much as $7.2 billion of completed building projects this year. Another $7.25 billion is expected to start during the year 2000.

These are among the highlights of COLLEGE PLANNING & MANAGEMENT’S Fifth Annual Survey of College and University Construction, carried out in conjunction with School Construction Alert, a reporting service of the Market Data Retrieval Division of Dun and Bradstreet.

Representatives of School Construction Alert send survey forms and place telephone calls to each of the 3,600 colleges in the United States seeking information on their construction programs. This information is compiled into state and regional reports from which projections of total construction activity are made.

Table 1 shows college construction from 1995 through the year 2000 (projected completions and projected starts). As can be seen, total college construction has been close to $6 billion annually for the last five years. Colleges have maintained this steady stream of construction as they prepare for larger incoming freshman classes. Whether the amount of construction that has been taking place will be enough to serve the needs of surging high school graduating classes is an issue that will have to be examined through the next several years.

Construction Completed in 1999

COLLEGE PLANNING & MANAGEMENT’S annual construction survey reports on estimates of construction completed in the last year (1999), on construction that colleges project that they will complete in the current year and on the construction that colleges say they expect to start in the current year.

In 1999 (see Table 2) colleges and universities together put almost $6.8 billion worth of construction in place. Of that total, almost $4.6 billion (67.2 percent) was spent on constructing entirely new buildings. The balance was split among additions to existing buildings ($987 million), accounting for a little less than 15 percent of the total construction dollars, and renovation and upgrading of existing buildings ($1.2 billion), approximately 18 percent. It is interesting to note that, while colleges continue to put most of their money into entirely new buildings, through the last five years, there seems to be increasing attention to either expanding or upgrading existing structures.

New college buildings currently underway cost an average of approximately $155 per square foot based on the sample buildings for which information was provided. Given that estimate, it appears that colleges completed about 29 million square feet of new buildings during the last year of the millennium. If one assumes that additions to existing buildings (essentially new space) cost about the same, the amount of new college space provided last year totals about 36 million square feet.

Table 2 shows national construction figures for 1999. It also shows construction activity completed in 12 regions of the United States. The regions were developed to allow colleges to compare their construction activity with others located in compatible states. Thus, Region 1 includes six New England states. Although there are ranges of costs from, for example, suburban Connecticut to rural Vermont, there are enough similarities among these states that colleges can use the figures given to make comparisons, making their own adjustments for individual situations.

Region 2, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, put more construction in place in terms of dollars spent than states in any other region of the nation last year. Almost 15 percent of the total construction dollars spent were spent in Region 2.

Region 9, at $744 million worth of work completed, did 11 percent of the nation’s total college construction. Region 9 includes Texas, along with Arkansas, Louisiana and Oklahoma.

Colleges in Region 2 spent just less than 60 percent of their dollars on new buildings. Those in Region 9 spent 71 percent of their dollars on new construction. Region 7 colleges (Minnesota, Illinois and Wisconsin) spent a total of almost $549 million and devoted slightly more than 86 percent of their construction money to new buildings and only 5.6 percent to additions and 8.3 percent to renovations.

At the other end of the spectrum, colleges in Region 8 (Kansas, Iowa, Nebraska and Missouri) spent only $358 million on facilities completed in 1999, but reported that 58 percent of their money went into additions to, and retrofit of, their existing structures. Region 3 (Maryland, Delaware, Washington DC, Virginia and West Virginia) also spent more than 50 percent of its total dollars ($414 million) on existing buildings, with more than one out of three dollars reported having been spent on the renovation and upgrading of existing buildings.

Completions in the Year 2000

Table 3 shows a summary of college construction that is projected to be completed during the current calendar year. A total of just less than $7.2 billion worth of construction is expected, with almost $4.7 billion of that (64.7 percent) going into completely new buildings; just more than $850 million going into additions; and almost $1.7 billion for renovation, retrofit and upgrading of existing structures.

As with Table 2, Table 3 shows not just the national figures but also those of each region. Region 2 is the leader in total dollar volume, but it must be remembered that the cost of construction in Region 2 is higher than the cost of construction in Region 5 (Florida, Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi), for example. Thus, while colleges in Region 2 were spending $831 million, they may not have built any more space than those in Region 5, which spent $652 million.

Region 2 is spending about 56 percent of its dollars on new buildings and almost one out of three dollars on renovation. Colleges in Region 5, on the other hand, are putting up new buildings with 71 percent of their construction dollars and spending little on additions to existing buildings.

Colleges in three other regions will also spend 70 percent or more of their construction dollars on new buildings. This includes Region 6 (Ohio, Michigan and Indiana), Region 8, and Region 10 (The Plains and Rocky Mountain States). Region 8 is an interesting study. In 1999 it put most of its money into existing buildings. The swing this year to new buildings may be a reporting error or the result of some construction initiatives begun two or three years ago, with the smaller projects (additions and retrofit) being completed last year and the larger new buildings coming on-line in 2000.

Looking Ahead

Looking to the future, information was gathered on construction projects expected to start in the year 2000. Table 4 details the expectations of college authorities. Altogether, $7.25 billion worth of construction is scheduled to get underway during the current calendar year. A little more than 61 percent of the construction dollars ($4.46 billion) will go into the construction of entirely new buildings. Additions will consume about 12 cents out of every dollar spent and renovation, at $1.9 billion, will account for better than one of four construction dollars.

The big spenders in terms of expectations are Region 4 (North Carolina, South Carolina, Kentucky and Tennessee) and Region 5. Each of these regions expects to start more than $900 million worth of construction during the current calendar year. Colleges in Region 7 expect to undertake almost $750 million worth of work, while expenditures in Region 2 will be around $715 million.

Colleges in most regions will continue to spend the bulk of their money on constructing new buildings, but the trend to look at existing buildings and to see if they can be fixed up, modernized or expanded seems to be getting more attention. In four regions (Regions 1, 2, 7 and 10) more than half the dollars will go into existing structures.

New Buildings

With the bulk of college construction dollars still going into the design and construction of new buildings, an effort was made to tabulate information on nine types of buildings, concentrating on projects expected to be completed this year.

Table 5 examines size and costs for 258 buildings that colleges expect to be completed during 2000. Together these buildings will encompass a little more than 16 million square feet, slightly more than half the new space expected to be put in place this year.

Thirty-eight of the buildings about which information was available have been classified as science buildings. The median science building will be 61,000 square feet and will cost $13 million. Science buildings are the most expensive building type recorded. The median among them will cost $183.75 per square foot. One-quarter of the science buildings, it is reported, will cost $238 or more per square foot. At the other end of the scale, one-quarter of the science buildings will cost $132.90 or less per square foot.

If you build a science building, how much should it (or will it) cost? Is the median a correct goal or too high or low? It’s impossible to know. One college’s science building may contain very different facilities from another college’s version of the same building. Is the new science building at a research university or at a community college? Will freshmen or graduate students use it? How sophisticated will the spaces and the equipment be?

The value of these tables lies in providing you with the opportunity to determine where logic suggests you ought to be. If, for example, your college emphasizes the arts, you may be prepared to bring your new science facility in at a cost comparable to the lower quartile shown. Your theater building, on the other hand, may be among the more expensive of that type of facility. The medians and quartile figures shown can help you place your project in a context. They cannot tell you what is right and what is wrong.

Office buildings seem to be the least expensive at $99 per square foot for the median. Physical education buildings, at just more than $111 per square foot, also appear to be relatively inexpensive, but one must remember that physical education buildings often have large volumes of space with relatively little in the way of expensive construction. Libraries at $170 per square foot and student unions at $164 are among the more expensive building types. This is not surprising considering the variety of facilities that need to be provided in a student union and the quantity and quality of technology so necessary in a library today.

There are not a sufficient number of buildings of a specific type within a region to examine costs and size but, when all new buildings expected to be completed in 2000 are lumped together, there are some noticeable differences. For example, the median building being completed in Region 2 is expected to cost $200 per square foot. There is a wide variety of building types among the 27 buildings reported and it is noticeable that Region 2 buildings tend to rank in the upper quartile in terms of cost for that type.

Region 11 (California, Nevada, Arizona and Hawaii) at a median cost of $187.50 per square foot and Region 1 at $176.47 are other regions where the cost of college construction overall is high. By contrast, in Region 4 the median cost for the 15 buildings reported is just $100 per square foot. A college in Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina or South Carolina spending $10 million on a new building seemingly could build twice as much space as a college in New York, New Jersey or Pennsylvania for the same price.

Residential Buildings

While it is sometimes difficult to compare one college building to another, one building type can usually be compared from college to college: residence halls.

COLLEGE PLANNING & MANAGEMENT received basic information on 61 dormitory projects scheduled to be completed in 2000. A supplementary survey, sent to the housing directors, sought additional information on the building projects. Responses were received from 24 institutions with a total of almost 5,500 beds, an average of 229 beds in each building. The median was 144 beds, indicating that there were some large projects (five had more than 500 beds apiece) and a good number of smaller ones.

How much space does a bed occupy? Not very much if one is speaking only of the bed itself. But, in terms of square feet per resident, the median dormitory reporting provided 273 square feet per resident at a cost of just more than $24,000 per person housed. The median cost per square foot among the reporting residence halls was $103.80, somewhat lower than the median cost per square foot among all 61 residence halls under construction as reported in Table 5.

Almost all of the residence halls opening this year are coed (87 percent). The few single-sex buildings are designated for women.

There are differences among residence halls, of course, most of them having to do with what is in the building other than sleeping and study rooms and bathrooms. For example, one in eight colleges report that they will build weight rooms. Television and recreation rooms will be in 78 percent and a kitchen in 65 percent. Every hall will have a laundry but none will have a dining hall, a sort of curious juxtaposition. Just more than 30 percent will be single-story buildings.

Technology is important on campuses today, and availability of Internet access can often be the key to whether a student chooses to live and study at your college. Fully 96 percent of the residence halls opening this year will provide computer access to the college network and cable TV access, and 87 percent will provide Internet access.

How about security? Card access security systems are being installed in 65 percent of the residences, while video surveillance will be in place in 19 percent. And in case of fire? Just 96 percent of the new residence halls are going to have sprinklers in place when they open. One can only hope, in light of the recent disaster at Seton Hall, that those few still resisting the cost of installing sprinklers will change their minds.

Paul Abramson is editorial director of College Planning & Management magazine. He can be reached for questions and comments at intelled@aol.com.

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