By eschewing traditional building and lending sources -- speculative developers and banks -- Henry H. Lewis Contractors Inc. of Owings Mills largely has managed to avoid the doldrums that plague the rest of the construction industry in Maryland.
But even for Lewis Contractors, which specializes in construction of schools, churches and the like, the bloom is off the rose. "Our backlog of institutional projects has been downsizing, diminishing over the last six to nine months," said Lewis executive Thomas McCracken.
Figures released this week by F. W. Dodge, a division of McGraw-Hill Inc., confirm the observations of Mr. McCracken and other area builders. In the first quarter of the year, according to Dodge, the value of virtually all types of construction in Maryland fell sharply, compared with the same periods in 1990.
The total value of construction activity in Maryland was $375.4 million last month, a 24 percent decrease from activity worth $492.3 million in March a year ago.
Likewise, during the first quarter, the value of statewide construction fell 24 percent, compared with a year ago, from $1.44 billion to $1.09 billion.
The March drop-off was consistent in all major segments of the industry: residential, non-residential and non-building (that is, work on roads, bridges, airports, sewage facilities and so on).
The hardest hit segment during the quarter was non-building, which showed a 53 percent decline compared with the prior year. In the first three months of 1990, non-building construction generated $342.3 million in activity; the same figure for 1991 was $159.4 million, according to Dodge.
Only non-residential construction -- commercial buildings, schools, churches and other buildings not designed for shelter -- showed a gain during the first quarter of this year. That segment generated activity worth $517.2 million, according to Dodge, a 27 percent increase over the $408.4 million in construction activity during the same period last year.
That statistic wasn't much solace for Leroy E. Kirby Sr., chief executive of Roy Kirby & Sons Inc. in Baltimore. "I'd say we're off" from last year, he said. Although the company hasn't been forced to lay off any workers, "we're tightening things up," Mr. Kirby said.
"You watch every expenditure there is," he said, "all the way down to pencils."