Editor's Note (The View From Here)

Good News, Again!

In February of each year we release the numbers on school construction. I am happy to report once again that the news in good! “School construction is once again a major player in the economy of the United States. More than $14 billion worth of school construction — including new buildings and additions to, and upgrading of, existing buildings — was put in place in 2014, a five percent increase over the previous year and the fourth year in a row that spending for school construction has increased.” (Read the full report starting on page 17 or download a copy at webSPM.com)

The numbers we reported follow the trends seen in the construction industry as a whole. According to a recent Association of General Contractors survey, 80 percent of construction firms plan to expand their headcount in 2015 as contractors foresee a growing demand in most market sectors, including schools (eight percent) and higher education (15 percent). The contractors challenge this time around will not be finding jobs, but finding enough skilled workers to do the job — another reason we need good schools.

But… it is not ALL about new construction. Some districts build new schools to handle aging infrastructure and rapidly growing school populations. Other districts are looking to preserve the schools they have. For too many years, maintenance budgets have been the first to be cut. Funds were withheld or diverted to salaries, unfunded mandates or more popular/visible projects. People involved in the shuffle of dollars had no idea how devastating the consequences of deferring maintenance could be.

In the relatively small Lake Oswego (Ore.) school district, building maintenance has been deferred for years and the need is now more than $24 million. The district will need to deal with much of the backlog of repairs within five years, and all within 10. The question is how? At a recent Board of Public Works meeting, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan stressed the need to maintain existing buildings, even suggesting that money for maintenance be in a locked reserve fund. In Rhode Island, Sen. Ryan W. Pearson is proposing using a small percentage of the state’s seven-percent sales tax to pay for school construction.

Hopefully the idea of maintaining our facilities and protecting our investment will continue to gain steam — and funding. A new school building is great, but we have neither the time nor the money to build new schools fast enough to make up for the ones that will soon fall down! We need to take action today… tomorrow may be too late!

This article originally appeared in the February 2015 issue of School Planning & Management.

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Has interest in sustainability initiatives—from alternative energy and water conservation to “green” landscaping, recycling, fossil-fuel divestment, local sourcing, and more—waned in your district?


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