The health-care facilities category in February decreased 9%, despite groundbreaking for a $335-million medical center replacement project in Joplin, Mo., and a $180-million hospital tower in Oakland. The other institutional categories reported gains in February, including a 22% increase for amusement-related work, which was helped by a $105-million convention center expansion in San Jose. Transportation terminal work in February advanced 45%, helped by the $78-million addition to Terminal B at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston and a $44-million renovation project at Grand Central Station in New York City.

On the commercial side, warehouses and hotels retreated in February, falling 8% and 47% respectively. Office construction improved 11% in February, reflecting such projects as a $106-million Social Security Administration building in Baltimore, a $75-million renovation to the U.S. Dept. of Commerce building in Washington, D.C., and a $65-million corporate headquarters in Malvern, Pa. Store construction in February was able to advance 35% from a weak January, aided by the start of a $300-million observation restaurant and entertainment venue in Las Vegas. The manufacturing plant category in February increased 9%, boosted by a $99-million upgrade to a solar panel manufacturing plant in Portland, Ore.

Residential Building

Residential building in February grew 3% to $140.6 billion (annual rate). Most of the upward push came from multifamily housing, which rebounded 10% after sliding back in January. Large multifamily projects reported as February starts included a $164-million condominium complex in Santa Monica, Calif., and a $57-million apartment building in Gambrills, Md. Single-family housing, up 1%, essentially held steady in February, due to a mixed performance by region – the South Atlantic, up 8%; the Midwest, up 5%; the Northeast, down 1%; the West, down 2%; and the South Central, down 3%.

Murray added, “While single family housing was able to show some gains towards the end of 2011, the early months of 2012 have seen that hesitant improving trend put on hold.”

The 14% decline reported for total construction on an unadjusted basis during the first two months of 2012, compared to 2011, was the result of a mixed performance by major sector. Nonresidential building dropped 17% year-to-date, reflecting this pattern – commercial building, down 9%; institutional building, down 15%; and manufacturing building, down 54%.

Residential building climbed 20% year-to-date, with multifamily housing up 23% while single-family housing grew 20% from its very weak amount at the start of last year. Nonbuilding construction fell 33% year-to-date, due to a 20% retreat for public works and a 56% reduction for electric utilities. The size of the year-to-date decline for nonbuilding construction was affected by the comparison to elevated activity during the first two months of 2011, which included such large projects as a $2.5-billion solar-power facility in California and $2.1 billion for work on the LBJ Freeway in Dallas.

By region, total construction starts in the first two months of 2012 showed an increase for one region, with the South Atlantic climbing 7%, while declines were registered by the other four regions—the Midwest, down 2%; the West, down 11%; the Northeast, down 21%; and the South Central, down 32%.

The 2% drop for total construction on a 12-month moving total basis, meaning the 12 months ending February 2012 versus the 12 months ending February 2011, was the result of this behavior by major sector—nonresidential building, down 3%; residential building, up 8%; and nonbuilding construction, down 10%. By geography, the 12 months ending February 2012 showed the following performance for total construction—the South Atlantic, up 13%; the West, up 3%; the Northeast and Midwest, each down 8%; and the South Central, down 12%.