New construction spending, battered by hard times after years of dramatic growth, was unchanged in August following a revised gain of 0.3 percent in July, the Commerce Department reported this week.

In June, construction spending was off 0.6 percent.

Total new construction put in place in August stood at $442.5 billion at an annual rate and adjusted for seasonal factors, according to the data collected by the department's Census Bureau.

Compared with August 1989, new construction spending increased nearly 2 percent nationwide, the government said. Private economists were expecting a sharp decline for the month.

"During the first eight months of this year, $289.2 billion of new construction was put in place, 3 percent above the $280.8 billion for the same period in 1989," the Commerce Department said.

A 2 percent decline in private construction spending in August, led by a drop in new single-family home and apartment construction, was offset by a 6 percent increase in construction in the public sector.

Nonresidential private construction was also off in August, on declines in the building of factories, offices, hotels, motels and hospitals. But church and private school construction were on the increase.

In the public sector in August, construction spending increased on housing, industry, public schools, hospitals, streets and highways, sewers and water supply facilities, the government said. But spending held steady on military bases and conservation projects.

In July, private construction was up 1.3 percent and public construction tumbled nearly 2.7 percent.