I’m feeling a bit duped.
Three years ago, when I was writing about school construction, experts were saying that school districts needed to hurry up and build before prices rose any further. Back then, there seemed to be no limit to how high the prices of construction materials would go, contractors were in high demand, and enrollments in many districts just kept rising.
Turns out, you would have saved a lot of moneyand perhaps headaches–if you’d just waited.
With the fall of the economy, construction prices have plummeted, contractors are begging for work, and some districts that had projected years of enrollment growth are seeing families leave because they lost their jobs. Also, there are a bunch of new federal grants and incentives for energy efficiency and green building, both new construction and renovations.
It’s absolutely maddening, but the lesson learned is that good planning is crucial. Regardless of the economy, schools should be able to project what their enrollments will be in five, 10, or 15 years and which areas of the district are seeing growth or decline in school-age populations. And those plans, we now know, must be flexible enough to accommodate sudden and unexpected shifts like some we’ve seen in recent months.
The one thing I’ve learned from personal experience recentlyafter spending three years looking for the perfect house and trying to decide on the best time to sell an investment propertyis that predicting the market is impossible. What matters most is what’s right for your districtif you need a new school and can raise the necessary funds, build it now. If you don’t need more space, or don’t have the cash in hand, don’t do it. You may still get a good, or better, deal a few years from now.
Regardless of your situation, it helps tremendously to know what’s happening in the construction industry and know the best design features for new schools, so you’ll be prepared when the time comes to build or renovate. Fortunately for my family, my obsession with the real estate market here in Northern Virginia helped me find a great house at a greatly reduced price. We know its value could decline if the economy goes down further, but we also know it’s the right fit for us for the next few years.
With that in mind, ASBJ’s October issue is chock-full of advice on how to plan and build schools that will fit your district for the foreseeable future, and how to best harness the ups and downs of this crazy economy we’re in. And be sure to tune in to our webinar, “Facilities and Construction Money: Where to Find It,” co-hosted with our friends at the Association of School Business Officials International, on Sept. 24. For registration and more information, go to here.
Joetta Sack-Min, Associate Editor