Maryland’s brief, yet troubled history with transportation public-private partnerships did not deter the state’s second-largest school system from adopting the delivery method for a major facility construction program that will be one of the largest in the U.S.

The Prince George’s County Board of Education on Oct. 21 overwhelmingly approved a proposal for a six-school, $1.2 billion construction program to be led by a design-build-operate-maintain team that includes Fengate Capital Management Ltd., Gilbane Development Co. Inc., and Gilbane Building Co. Stantec will serve as lead designer, with Honeywell providing maintenance and operations services.

A school system spokesman says the P3 arrangement also will be the nation's first to include maintenance.

While details of the contract remain to be finalized, the program calls for five new middle schools and one K-8 facility to be built over the next four years, serving a total of 8,000 students. The team will maintain the six facilities for 30 years, after which each school is expected to avoid major maintenance costs for another 15 years. The county will own the buildings.

A Fengate statement claims that the P3 will cut delivery time for the new schools by two-thirds, and save the county, a suburb of Washington, D.C., $174 million in deferred maintenance and construction costs.

The program is expected to put a dent in county's estimated $8.5 billion school maintenance backlog, with more than 40% of its 200-plus school buildings dating from the early 1960s. The county said it will also pursue other school replacement projects using conventional project delivery and funding approaches.

But Other P3 Woes

Meanwhile, the county hosts about half of now stalled construction along the $2-billion Purple Line light rail project route that soured as a P3 due to unresolved disputes over delays and an estimated $755 million in cost overruns that resulted in the development group’s departure from the effort last month—a situation raised by some school P3 opponents.

Project participants included Fluor and Meridiam.

The state transit authority has assumed oversight of the rail line's design-build contracts while it sorts out a long-term strategy to finish the project, either with another P3 or using a different delivery method. A decision on how to proceed is due in the next three to five months.

State officials have said other firms have expressed interest to take over work, but no names have been released.

An $11-billion Maryland Dept. of Transportation proposal to add express toll lanes to portions of the I-495 Capital Beltway and I-270 using P3s has also come under fire due to the uncertainties of expanding heavily traveled regional freeways located in densely developed corridors.

The latest objections come from the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, a planning agency that serves counties adjacent to Washington. In its response to the project’s draft environmental impact statement, the agency’s board cited numerous deficiencies such as the absence of a complete plan to mitigate environmental impacts and stormwater management.

The agency also criticized the study for not fully considering alternatives to highway capacity expansion, and failing to detail compensation for parkland required for construction.

“The state’s project team is still not delivering on what it promised with the assessment and analysis phase of this project,” said commission Chair Casey Anderson, adding that the agency’s governing body cannot agree with the plan until its land use, transportation, and environmental concerns are addressed. “That just hasn’t happened despite months of trying to get answers,” Anderson added.

Four P3 development teams have been shortlisted for the Beltway/I-270 expansion program, with formal proposals due to be submitted to MDOT early next year.