Population shifts, along with ballot funding measures, are driving new construction at schools and universities. The number of education projects that broke ground increased 14% in September, according to Dodge Data and Analytics. Also in September, 10 educational facilities valued at $100 million or more broke ground, including a $243-million neuroscience building at the University of California, San Francisco; the $200-million renovation of the Mid-Manhattan Library in New York City; and a $150-million high school in Germantown, Md., Dodge reports.
In Colorado Springs’ District 49, voters approved a $83.5-million mill-levy override to pay for necessary projects. Melissa Andrews, community and facilities planning manager for District 49, says that growth east of Colorado Springs prompted the need for more schools. “Much of Colorado Springs is landlocked, so all the growth is coming our way,” she notes. The number of school-aged children in the district have jumped to more than 20,000 from 10,000 in 2005, she says.
The school district has three high-school additions either planned or underway. Falcon High School’s $5.65-million addition will include a new academic wing specifically devoted to a career technical-education nursing program. J.E. Johnson is building the project. Two new elementary schools and 24 school modernization projects are also planned. “There are a lot of projects to update the schools because we don’t educate children the way we used to,” says District 49’s Andrews. “The kids don’t sit in a classroom and learn from a teacher talking at a blackboard any longer.”
Instead, she says, more schools are providing areas for group projects, labs and a lot of “maker spaces” for STEM and arts projects.
In California last November, voters approved Proposition 51 to provide $7 billion in school construction bonds, earmarked for new construction ($3 billion), modernization ($3 billion), charter school ($500 million) and facilities for career technical education ($500 million). Officials from the Clovis and Dublin Unified school districts have estimated that, over the next decade, California school districts will need $20 billion to build and modernize schools.
According to Julie Arthur, executive director of facilities planning for the Palm Springs Unified School District, there is a five-year backlog of state projects, estimated at about $2 billion, awaiting funding. However, California’s Office of Public School Construction, which reviews and approves grant applications from school districts, says it now is reviewing 926 applications valued at $2.9 billion, according to an office spokeswoman.
Palm Springs is rebuilding the Agua Caliente elementary school to meet current seismic, environmental and technology requirements. The $46-million project is being built on the playground of the old school. Students will use the old building until March 2019, when the project will complete; then, the old building will be demolished to create room for a new playground.
For Arthur, the funds for projects on the waiting lists throughout California can’t arrive soon enough. “There are more than 1,000 school districts in California,” she says. “They all have different needs—aging out, population growth … but the lack of funding from the state has affected all districts.”