Contracting for new construction in January advanced 5% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $480.2 billion, according to the F.W. Dodge Division of The McGraw-Hill Companies. Healthy gains were reported for nonresidential building and nonbuilding construction, such as public works and utilities.

Nonresidential building jumped 10% to $183.2 billion during the month. Much of the growth came from the institutional side with school construction up 13% and health care facilities up 17%. Increased contracting also occurred in the church construction sector, up 11%; amusement-related projects, up 32%; and public buildings such as courthouses and detention facilities, up 49%.

Commercial building construction was mixed. Stores and shopping centers rose 21%; office construction rose 3%; and manufacturing plant construction rose 5% after a weak December. This figure was helped by large projects in New York, $240 million; Wayne, MI, $148 million; and Jersey City, NJ, $90 million. The declines came in hotels, down 12% and warehouses, down 18%. “Tighter bank lending standards in 2001 are expected to have some dampening impact on commercial building, although it’s yet to show up to any significant degree for store and office construction,” said Robert A. Murray, vice president of economic affairs for Dodge.

Nonbuilding construction increased 6% in January thanks to a 112% increase for electric power plant construction which includes large projects in Arkansas, $600 million; Alabama, $350 million; and Kentucky, $140 million. “During the past two years, electric power plant construction took off, and January shows this trend to be continuing in 2001 as both utilities and independent power producers add to capacity,” Murray said.

The total construction breakdown per region vs. last January was as follows: the West, up 28%; the Northeast, up 25%; the South Central, up 6%; the Midwest, up 1%l and the South Atlantic, down 6%.