Saving Money on School Construction

By Joetta Sack-Min

You built it. They came. And now the school facility that once was the pride of the community, perhaps even the one that you helped plan, is looking outdated.

Keeping an existing school up to date with the latest technologies, high-performance features, and trends in teaching and learning can be an arduous task. And the budget for routine maintenance and repairs tends to be the first item cut in these hard economic times, which contributes to the decline.

But if your district can afford to renovate or rebuild, you have some unprecedented opportunities. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, more commonly known as the federal stimulus package, is giving states and districts incentives for a variety of school construction, renovation, energy- efficiency projects, even cafeteria upgrades. While only a small fraction of the Recovery Act’s main K-12 funds will go toward school improvements, despite President Obama’s original intentions, several smaller programs provide tax credits and interest-free or low-interest loans for renovations and green, or sustainable, features.

“There are more opportunities than we’ve seen in a long time,” says Edwin Schmidt, an architect with Fanning Howey Associates, an architectural and engineering firm based in Medina, Ohio. “There are the three most important things in place: There is a will to do it, an economy that allows you to do it, and a workforce that is willing to do it.”

Adding to that, the economy has left builders in many areas struggling to stay afloat. That can be an advantage for districts, as prices for contractors’ services, materials, and labor are much cheaper than in recent years, lopping off as much as 20 percent a project, according to some construction managers.

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