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Even in the midst of a severe economic downturn, New York City’s public and private institutions moved forward with $11.4 billion in new construction starts during the three year period from June 2008 through May 2011, according to a New York Building Congress analysis of McGraw-Hill Construction Dodge data.

The data encompass all recorded project starts, including new construction as well as alterations and renovations to existing structures, and reflect the estimated value of each initiated project through the entire period of construction. The sectors examined include elementary and secondary schools, hospitals and health care, higher education, courts, libraries, cultural facilities and religious institutions.

Institutional construction starts reached $3.8 billion between June 2008 and May 2009 before rising to $4.4 billion between June 2009 and May 2010. According to the McGraw-Hill Construction Dodge numbers, the value of new construction starts fell to $3.2 billion between June 2010 and May 2011.

Ordinarily, such a decline would be cause for some concern; however, the data do not include the $680 million Whitney Museum project near the High Line or Fordham University’s $250 million multi-use facility at Lincoln Center. Both the Whitney and Fordham held groundbreaking ceremonies in May of this year, but neither project had officially been recorded in the database as of May 31.

Public institutions were responsible for approximately 56 percent of new construction projects between 2009 and 2010. That split held steady between 2010-2011, with the public sector accounting for 53 percent of the value of all construction starts (when factoring in the Whitney and Fordham projects).

The biggest driver of construction starts continues to be the New York City School Construction Authority, which initiated nearly $4.5 billion in construction starts over the three year period analyzed in this report. The health and hospitals sector contributed another $2.6 billion worth of project starts over three years. More than three-quarters of these starts were initiated by private healthcare institutions.

Continued Growth

Total employment by colleges, universities, elementary and secondary schools, healthcare institutions and cultural facilities currently stands at 724,000, up from 713,000 in 2010. Institutional employment, which has risen each year since at least 1990, now accounts 19.4 percent of all New York City jobs up from 16.7 percent a decade ago.

“The construction starts and employment numbers are very encouraging and demonstrate that New York’s leading institutions are committed to growth,” said New York Building Congress President Richard T. Anderson. “At least through May of this year, the City of New York has by and large maintained its commitment to public sector institutions. Similarly, the City’s private institutions are moving full steam ahead on new projects after a brief and understandable slowdown in the immediate aftermath of the 2008 financial collapse.”

Spotlight on Higher Education

While New York City’s private universities garner the most attention, it has been government that has accounted for the bulk of new construction in the higher education sector recently. In fact, 75 percent of new construction starts, as measured by value, over the past two years have been initiated by City University of New York (CUNY), the State University of New York (SUNY) and other government-related entities most notably the NYPD’s new $500 million Police Academy in Queens. Other recent higher education starts, financed by the public sector, include the $381 million CUNY Advanced Science Research Center, a new $222 million Boricua campus facility in the Bronx, and the $210 million reconstruction of Fiterman Hall.

Most encouraging, however, is the vast amount of work anticipated as part of CUNY’s ongoing five-year, $2.5 billion capital plan. In addition to the projects nearing completion, highlighted by the $587 million expansion of John Jay College, CUNY is in the design phase for a number of ambitious projects. These include a $400 million academy building for the NYC College of Technology, a $210 million renovation of the Field Building at Baruch College, a $120 million Academic Village and Conference Center at York College and a $200 million computational center for the College of Staten Island.

In addition, the City’s major private universities are laying the groundwork for an unprecedented wave of expansion stretching over decades.

In June of 2010, Columbia University cleared the last major legal hurdle in its effort to vastly expand and modernize its historic Manhattanville campus. Columbia’s $6.3 billion expansion will encompass 6.8 million square feet covering 17 acres. In May, Columbia commenced work on the first new facility the $175 million Jerome L. Greene Science Center.

Not to be outdone, New York University recently released “NYU 2031” a twenty-year growth and development strategy that calls for the eventual construction of up to six million square feet of new facilities. As envisioned by NYU, the new space would be divided evenly between the university’s historic Greenwich Village core and other parts of the City, such as Downtown Brooklyn and Governors Island.

Fordham University has also gotten into the act. As mentioned previously, work has begun on a 22-story facility that will house its law school, a library and student residences. The tower is the first of six new buildings planned as part of Fordham’s $1.6 billion expansion of its Lincoln Center campus. Like NYU and Columbia, the expansion is expected to stretch over the coming decades.

Mr. Anderson concluded, “The ability and determination of New York’s colleges and universities to build for the future is vital to New York City and our industry. In the short-run, these projects mean jobs, which are especially important right now. Just as significantly, these institutions are ensuring their continued vitality and global competitiveness, as well as that of the City itself, while also preparing the next generation of New York’s leaders.”

Charts and Diagrams

Source: McGraw-Hill Construction Dodge*

Source: New York State
Department of Labor

* Dodge data used for this analysis can be
purchased at


Aug 2011