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A sharp rise in nonresidential construction helped boost the total value of all building activity in Erie and Niagara counties by 127 percent in May, an industry survey found.

The F.W. Dodge Division of McGraw Hill Inc. reported that the total value of all building contracts for future construction in the two-county region increased for the third consecutive month.

Still, the twofold increase in May contracts is a bit distorted because last month's figures are compared with a weak month experienced by the construction industry in May 1989.

At the same time, though, the area's construction industry rebounded at a time when building activity statewide was falling by 10 percent, Dodge reported.

The survey found that building contracts in the two-county region rose to $148 million last month from $65.3 million a year earlier, thanks to a fourfold increase in nonresidential construction.

The nonresidential contracts shot up 412 percent to $96.4 million from $18.8 million, while the residential sector grew at a much slower pace, rising 11 percent to $51.6 million from $46.4 million.

Both Erie and Niagara counties posted strong gains during the month.

In Erie County, the total value of all contracts rose 135 percent to $136.7 million from $58.3 million. Most of that gain was due to a 418 percent rise in nonresidential construction, which increased to $91.2 million from $17.6 million. At the same time, residential building rose 12 percent to $45.5 million from $40.6 million.

In Niagara County, the total value of all building contracts rose 62 percent to $11.4 million last month from $7 million in May 1989. Once again, the nonresidential sector accounted for nearly all of that growth, rising 328 percent to $5.2 million from $1.2 million a year earlier. Residential construction also increased 7 percent to $6.2 million last month from $5.8 million in May 1989.

Nationally, three public works projects totaling $300 million helped boost the value of new construction contracts in May by 6 percent from the month before, the F.W. Dodge reported.

The Dodge Index of construction contracting, which uses 1982 as its base of 100, rebounded to 155 in May, compared with April's four-year low of 147.

In May, contracting for public works and utility projects grew 12 percent to its best level this year. The projects included three lock-dam structures being built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers along waterways in Oregon, West Virginia and Pennsylvania, Dodge said.

Though these projects gave the May figures a lift, the level of general building activity also rose, Dodge said. Non-residential building contracting advanced 6 percent, while residential building rose 4 percent.

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