Contractors like Advanced Masonry Systems, who have found a niche in school construction, may be the lucky ones. In March, the Associated General Contractors of America reported that while construction spending is at its lowest rate since June 2003, public construction has continued to post a modest 2.1% annual gain.
Education construction is a bright spot in Florida's masonry market. Although residential and commercial projects are still few and far between, masons are building and expanding schools.
At one point in 2008, Advanced Masonry was working on five different schools at once. The masons placed almost 1 million brick on these projects. In 2009, they completed 15 additions to Hillsboro County schools alone. Advanced Masonry is scheduled to build several new schools in Sarasota County this year.
Vice president Ron Karp attributes this growth to several factors. Many of Florida's schools are aging and overdue for renovation. Before 2008, commercial and residential construction boomed in the Sunshine State and costs were high. Rather than building new schools, counties settled for smaller projects, such as adding new classrooms and cafeterias.
Now that other construction has tapered off, counties are seizing the opportunity to rebuild their schools and are shopping for bargains. “Now that it's a little more affordable, counties are doing projects they have been putting off for years,” says Karp.
Karp also points to Florida's Class Size Reduction Amendment as a factor in the recent growth. The state dictates a maximum number of students per classroom: 18 students up to third grade; 22 for grades 4-8; and 25 for grades 9-12. The standard has slowly been taking effect since 2003, but is now required for the 2010-11 school year. “A lot of these buildings have just run out of space,” he says.