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education construction in 2019

Back to School: State of Education Construction in 2019

Education construction is on the rise. Learn about the top trends impacting the 2019-2020 school year.  

Class is back in session! 

Yes, with the start of the 2019-20 academic school year, students across the country are returning to the classroom for another year of learning. And while school children usually dread back to school time, it’s embraced by parents. Likewise, builders are also happy to see class back in session, as it likely means that any major projects in the education sector finalized before the first bell of the year rang. 

Indeed, education is a bustling construction market. In fact, in 2018, some $98.9 billion was spent on education construction projects across America, which represented nearly a 10% spending increase from a year ago. Below, we’ll get to the reasons why school districts and universities are spending more on new construction, but before we do, it’s worth visiting some statistics on this healthy market. Check out our latest infographic (and share!) to see the top statistics in education construction: 

Education Construction in 2019 - state of the market

As you can see, the state of education construction is overall a very healthy one. More than half of all American school districts plan to start some new construction project in 2019. In 2018, about 40% of all K-12 districts completed significant renovation projects, and more than 20% built or replaced old buildings. About 80% of all colleges and universities are preparing for big projects in 2019. For builders, this means there are plenty of lucrative opportunities to work in the education sector. Now, let’s take a closer look at the major trends that are impacting this rise in education construction:

5 Trends Impacting Education Construction

Trend 1: Aging Buildings

One of the key reasons for new construction or renovations in K-12 and higher education institutions is the abundance of aging or dated buildings. The majority of buildings on most college campuses were built before the year 1975 and have more than passed some key parameters for updates and even total removal. 

According to Sitelines’ report “The State of Facilities in Higher Education,” more than 35% of all campus space currently in use was built specifically for accommodating the Baby Boomer generation. Sitelines goes on to note that when construction on many of these buildings commenced, it was rushed and the intention was to upgrade them in time. In addition to the age of many buildings on university campuses, the majority of these old buildings are also very inefficient from a heating and cooling perspective. 

So what do aging buildings mean for maintenance and renovation teams? Problems. According to TeamDynamix, there’s a maintenance backlog of nearly $110 per square foot for public colleges and $88 per square foot for private schools. 

So how do these problems get resolved? By making maintenance a priority. Schools can’t defer critical systems like HVAC in the near-term—unless they want them to be more expensive in the long-term, that is. Hence, preventative maintenance should become a priority, and this is perhaps helped considering the rise in building models and the availability of other construction data to address such issues more proactively. 

Bottom line: Schools shouldn’t defer maintenance—they should work to prevent it. Much of this maintenance exists in aging buildings, leading to a rise in work for construction teams.

Trend 2: Student Safety

Student safety is always a priority for school districts and college campuses, but this trend is increasing in importance due to a number of high-profile violent incidents that have taken place in schools and on campuses in recent years. In fact, student safety is such a concern these days, that a U.S. News and World Report found that one out of every three parents report fearing for their child’s safety while at school. To put this into context, that’s the highest this concern has been in about 20 years. 

So how are schools being built and renovated to be safer? It starts with AEC (Architecture, Engineering, Construction) professionals, as there’s more of a need than ever for schools to be built safe, yet still allow students to prosper. Many builders are now specifically addressing student concerns in new builds and taking creative, unique ways to resolve them in the design and building of schools. 

While a big part of school safety lies on the shoulders of the administrators, staff members and even students, builders can also play a role in creating a safe environment to help offer more peace of mind for parents. Any new construction certainly reflects this trend.

Trend 3: Financing

Financing is also a trend in education construction, specifically the lack thereof. According to Higher Education Finance Reform, it’s estimated that all California Community Colleges, the University of California and California State University need about $47.2 billion to modernize and maintain their respective existing facilities over the next five years. And this is just the state of California—imagine what that monetary amount is nationwide over the next five years. 

Coming up with the money to fund education construction isn’t just a regional issue. And frequently, the government isn’t willing to allocate any funds toward such projects. Take the University of Minnesota, for instance, which asked the Minnesota state legislature for $236 million worth of bonds for a $3.7 billion university-wide improvement for repairs and renovations it will require over the next 10 years. The state legislature gave the university nothing. 

What’s more is that many of these colleges having nothing set aside for improvements, especially amid budget cuts many have had to make in recent years. Per The Atlantic, colleges collectively are short about $30 billion for deferred maintenance of aging buildings and infrastructure. 

What can colleges do to address this and still attract new students each year? New financing solutions. Certainly, donors and campaigns can help in this manner, but some colleges, such as Washington and Lee, performed renovations on buildings where it named certain rooms after top donors. The private Virginia-based university is also setting aside about 15% of the cost of new buildings to pay for the likes of maintenance on buildings. Washington and Lee isn’t alone in this tactic, as many more are beginning to get more creative with financing new construction and maintenance. 

Trend 4: Scheduling Around Academic Calendars

There are about 180 days in the average K-12 academic school year, and college campuses are active year-round. Noting this, scheduling becomes a challenge in education construction. In K-12 environments particularly, it’s the goal of districts to have construction finalized so that students can begin the academic school year in a new facility. Depending on the state and the school district, start dates range from early August until early September. On college campuses, administrators may have similar goals, yet the purpose of such projects is more about being minimally disruptive to other campus activities while construction is going on.

Regardless of the project, there’s a lot of pressure on construction teams to meet deadlines and not interrupt a student’s ability to learn, whether it’s in the K-12 or higher education market. Meeting deadlines is mainly contingent on constant communication and collaboration between construction teams, owners and academic administrators.

Aside from emphasizing communication, construction teams should be relying on collaboration and field management technology to work as productively and as efficiently as possible. There’s little room for error in education construction since teams are under such immense pressure to finish projects on time. Construction teams need to be utilizing every tool at their disposal to ensure they’re staying on track or else risk a falling out with the owner or a delayed completion date.

Trend 5: Changing Campus Needs

According to the Sitelines report, it’s estimated that as much as 50% of the growth on higher education campuses are not academic buildings. With more students attending college, universities are forced to add the likes of dormitories, cafeterias, apartments, administrative offices and other amenities to accommodate existing staff and students while also aiming to attract more students. And this doesn’t even include on-campus sports and recreation facilities that campus teams or the public can access.

Changing campus needs are largely a reflection of the times. With more students attending college, campuses need to keep up with the times to make their institutions attractive both from an academic and accommodation standpoint. And many of these facilities are funded by students. Room and board fees support a new cafeteria; another student tax likely supports a new recreation center. 

However, when student enrollment can no longer support the maintenance or construction of new buildings for college campuses to stay competitive, that’s where things can get dicey. In fact, many college administrators now worry that they’ve gotten into an arms race in terms of how they can be bigger, better and offer more than the school down the road that they’re competing with for future students. Noting this, it’s important for campus leaders to consider cost implications of many of the factors that we’ve discussed in this piece.

Study Up on Education Construction Trends

Education construction isn’t likely to be slowing any time soon, so while your construction teams might be catching their breath now after completing that latest K-12 project before the current 2019-20 academic school year began, it’s only going to be a matter of time before you’re pursuing that next K-12 or higher education project. Make sure you approach any new education project with the factors that we’ve outlined in this piece for your best chance at a satisfied owner and a successful end project that everyone is proud of.

Grace Ellis

As a Content Marketing Manager at PlanGrid, Grace is the managing editor for the PlanGrid Construction Productivity Blog. With over eight years of experience in marketing, communications and PR for technology companies, she is specialized in high-quality content creation across both traditional and digital media platforms.

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