Facility Planning

Cheat Sheet 2016

As the new administration proposes a major infrastructure bill, it is critical that our public education infrastructure is understood as core to the short, medium and long term health and growth of this nation. The scale of the public school buildings and grounds which make up our PK-12 public education infrastructure can be obscured by their local nature. So to help inform federal policy and planning, I have provided a primer of PK-12 public education infrastructure facts from the State of our Schools 2016.

  • Nearly 100,000 PK-12 public schools and support-facilities constitute about 7.5 billion gross square feet of built space — and PK-12 public school grounds constitute about 2 million acres of land, including for athletics, school yards, parking and improved and unimproved outdoor areas and building footprints.
  • From fiscal years 1994-2013 with almost no federal assistance, local school districts and states spent an average of $49 billion per year on school construction capital outlay — including hard and soft costs, but excluding land and existing structures. At this level of spending, PK-12 public school capital outlay is the second largest state and local capital sector, second only to highways.
  • The nation’s public school facilities 2014 replacement value is about $2 trillion, based on 7.5 billion gross square feet of space and a national average hard and soft cost for construction in 2014 of $256 per gross square foot.
  • The modern standard for responsible stewardship of this 7.5 billion gross square feet of space is annual spending of 4 percent of current replacement value, made up of 2 percent for capital renewals, 1 percent to decrease the backlog of accumulated deferred maintenance and repairs, and 1 percent for building and grounds modifications to meet educational program requirements.
  • PK-12 public school enrollment is projected to increase by 3.1 million students from 2014-2024, and $10 billion is estimated to be needed to provide for new school construction for 80 percent of this growth.
  • If the nation spent to the modern standard for capital outlay and provided for 80 percent of the growth with new construction, then it would spend $87 billion per year on school construction capital outlay, rather than only $49 billion per year — a $38-billion per year increase from the 20-year average.

Any federal public infrastructure bill should help close this $38-billion annual capital outlay gap. Not only will this improve the health, safety and education of children in public schools, but it will help revitalize neighborhoods and support as many as 675,000 new good American jobs.2

State of our School Infrastructure infographic

1 Filardo, Mary (2016). State of our Schools 2016: America’s K-12 Facilities, Washington, D.C. 21st Century School Fund; data sources: US Census of Governments data from forms F-33 and F-13, Dodge Analytics project data, state facilities directors.

2 A Public Investment Agenda that delivers the goods for American workers needs to be long-lived, broad, and subject to democratic oversight; Josh Bivens and Hunter Blair, December 8, 2016, Economic Policy Institute, Washington, DC.

This article originally appeared in the January 2017 issue of School Planning & Management.

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