RSMeans’ Dollars-per-Square-Foot Construction Costs: Office Buildings and Public Structures

04/09/2009 by Alex Carrick

Accompanying this report are tables and charts based on RSMeans' measures of dollar-per-square-foot construction costs. The results for 25 major cities are shown in eight type-of-structure categories. The eight structure types come in two major sub-groupings – office buildings and institutional. Means has updated specifications with regards to its building cost models. For this reason, it is not valid to directly compare this year's figures with last year's. That is why the percentage change columns read “not applicable”.

Office Building Construction Cost Comparisons

Among office buildings, it is most expensive to build a medical office building. Among “standard” office buildings, it is cheaper to build higher on a square footage basis. For example, a two- to four-story office building is costlier to build than a five- to 10-story office building. An 11- to 20-story office building is another step down in costs. (text continues below table)

Mainly Law Enforcement Buildings

Among public sector projects (i.e., mainly law enforcement), a jail is the most expensive to build, followed by a police station. A courthouse is also relatively expensive to construct − even more per square foot than a medical office building − while a post office has a dollar-per-square-foot cost that is quite inexpensive by comparison. (text continues below table)

New York is the Most Expensive; Cities in the South are Least Expensive

New York has the highest dollar-per-square-foot construction costs in the country. San Francisco, Boston, Chicago and Philadelphia round out the top five. Relatively low-cost cities are mainly in the southeast and southwest, including Miami, Atlanta, Phoenix Houston and Dallas. The nation's capital, Washington, is in the lower mid-range for construction costs among the 25 cities considered in the tables and graphs.

Some City Comparisons

It is interesting to make some regional comparisons. It costs about 25% more to build in Chicago than in Atlanta. The relationship is about the same between higher-cost Philadelphia and lower-cost Miami. The mark-up in New York, the most expensive city among the 25 shown, and Winston Salem, the least expensive, is about two-thirds or 66%.