DALLAS-Even as other development activity has slowed to atrickle, school districts are still developing and renovatingeducational facilities throughout Dallas-Fort Worth, albeit at aslower pace than a few years ago.

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“D-FW is one of the more vibrant education construction marketsbecause new facilities, for the most part, follow population, andthe population continues to expand,” says Neal Harper, president ofCadence McShane Construction Co., a local firm that is involved inthe construction and renovation of several education facilities inthe Metroplex.

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Although the number of educational projects has decreased overthe past two years, Harper contends activity is still strong acrossthe Lone Star State and in North Texas, in particular.

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For reference, the most recent construction data from the USCensus Bureau says there is more than $74 billion worth ofeducational facilities under development in the US today. That is a5.6% decrease from this time last year. However, 2011 activity issupposed to increase nearly 3%.

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Harper tells GlobeSt.com that school districts across NorthTexas, particularly those in fast-growing suburban areas, have beenplaying catch up when it comes to meeting demand for educationalfacilities. “Over the past several years, many suburban areas couldnot keep up with the number of people coming in,” he notes.

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Consider this: all five counties that comprise the Metroplex(Dallas, Collin, Denton, Rockwall and Tarrant counties) grewrapidly over the past decade.

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Collin County, for example, saw its population explode by awhopping 61%, while Denton County grew 51% and Rockwall Countyburst the seams with an increase of nearly 89%, according to the USCensus Bureau. Dallas County had the smallest population growth,and even then it grew 10.5%, while Tarrant County expanded by23.8%.

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On average, about 25% of the population in North Texas is under18 – which translates to roughly 1 million students. Constructionactivity is occurring at all levels, from elementary to highschool, according to Harper.

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In Murphy, for example, Cadence McShane is working on a $37million high school for Plano Independent School District. NamedMcMillen High School, the two-story, 282,000 square footeducational campus is located a fast-growing community in CollinCounty.

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It will offer 67 instructional spaces, 10 comprehensive sciencelaboratories, band and music spaces, library, competition andpractice gymnasiums, full-service cafeteria and kitchen, inaddition to several on-campus athletic venues such as a practicesoftball and baseball field, batting cages, a running track andpractice football fields.

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Plano ISD's 2008 Bond Program, which voters passed on May 10,2008, includes $490 million for construction, renovation andtechnology initiatives. The Plano ISD is comprised of 39elementary schools, 11 middle schools, five high schools and threesenior high schools and
serves over 44,000 students.

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The design and size of the educational facilities is largelydependent on the curriculum goals of the school district, Harpernotes. “It varies from district to district,” he says, pointing outthat some schools districts in North Texas prefer smallerfacilities with smaller classrooms. Other districts are taking adistinctly different approach and are designing larger facilities,so-called “mega-schools”, in an effort to better manage theirresources.

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“In the past, we never used to fathom a $100 million facility,but we’re building some of them,” Harper says. In Red Oak, forexample, Cadence McShane recently completed Red Oak High School, a$66.5 Million, 340,000-square-foot high school facility owned andoperated by Red Oak Independent School District.

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Designed by Dallas-based Corgan Associates Inc., the newthree-story Red Oak High School offers 120 instructional spaces, alarge performing arts center, full-service cafeteria, digitallyequipped library, arts studios, dance and theater areas andcomprehensive science laboratories.

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The campus also features an athletics wing with a25,000-square-foot field house, large competition gymnasium, twoadditional sports gymnasiums, weight and practice rooms andcoaching and administrative offices.

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School districts are designing and constructing facilities thatfocus on sustainability, Harper says. Red Oak High School, forexample, features geothermal heating and cooling system. “From theschool district’s perspective, there’s a higher initial costupfront with energy efficient systems, but the operating expensescome way down, and the system pays for itself," hecontends. "The district can focus those funds toward teachersand curriculum.”

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Technology has also transformed today’s educational facilities.“With technology, there are vast differences between the schools webuilt 25 years ago versus today – it’s phenomenally different,”Harper notes.

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