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BURBANK, CA-Private commercial construction in California dropped by 19.5% during the first nine months of 2002, according to a new report by the non-profit Construction Industry Research Board.

The Burbank-based CIRB said total private nonresidential building totaled $10.709 billion for the first three quarters of the year, down $2.588 billion from the same period last year. Nearly 45% of that decline is due to a $1.154 billion drop in new office buildings.

Nonresidential building is the weakest of all construction sectors, according to Ben Bartolotto, research director for the CIRB, who forecasts that commercial construction will remain weak unless the economy improves and business spending increases.

CIRB is forecasting total private nonresidential building at $13.799 billion for all of 2002, down 17.7% from 2001, but to increase by 3% in 2003 to $14.239 billion. All that, of course, will depend on an anticipated turnaround in the business economy.

Only two sectors in the state’s private and public construction showed gains through Sept. 30, the CIRB report said. Residential building totaled $24.135 billion for the first nine months, up 9.7% from the same period last year, and up in 19 of the state’s 25 metropolitan areas. In addition, public building construction (government-owned buildings) totaled $5.398 billion, up 5.4% from the same period last year. Total public works construction, which includes both government-owned buildings and heavy (civil works) construction, totaled $12.596 billion in the first nine months of 2002. This reflects an increase of $28.4 million or, two-tenths of a percent, from the same period last year.

CIRB analysts say that given state and local fiscal constraints, the outlook for public works construction is uncertain.

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