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P3's and Educational Facilities

Authors: Lucas Pizzutti and Eric Singer

P3’s photo illustration of a classroom and construction are often thought of as delivery mechanisms for large infrastructure projects such as roads and bridges, but P3s are more and more frequently being utilized to deliver a wide range of social infrastructure. A recent project by Miami-Dade County Public Schools (MDCPS), a project in Lee County, and another P3 in Maryland may shed some light as to how P3’s may be used to deliver new educational facilities. 

One benefit of utilizing a P3 in this context is that it can address multiple different community needs. The project currently being developed in the Brickell neighborhood in Miami is a perfect example. Currently under construction is MDCPS’s newest school and newest foray into the P3 space, which combines workforce housing and educational facilities into one project site. It is a seven story building with two floors dedicated to teacher housing with the school being built on the upper floors of the building, for a total of seven stories. Adjacent to the new school is a privately developed mixed-income apartment building with roughly 465 units, 45% of which are workforce housing. The developer is also constructing a parking garage that will serve both the school and the residents.  We represented the development team in the negotiation of the agreements governing the construction, financing, and operating of the shared parking facility, and the form of agreement is being utilized by other governments for similar shared-parking arrangements.  

The West Brickell project is only the beginning. According to Raul Perez, the chief facilities, design and construction officer for MDCPS:

 “In the future, we have a property, a school at the border of Overtown and Wynwood, Phillis Wheatley Elementary School, and so that one is going to be redeveloped and there is going to be workforce housing, much larger than what we have here, along with a brand new redeveloped school. We are the largest landowner in the county, we are working with other municipalities, public-public partnerships, to see how we can bring this type of model to those cities.”

Critically, with this project, MDCPS has the needed land on which to develop these new projects, as Perez mentions. Being the largest single landowner in the County allows the MDCPS to enter into numerous types of arrangements, such as land swaps, to accomplish their goals via a P3 model. MDCPS however, isn’t the only school district looking at P3’s as a model to solve their issues. In Lee County, a new 1500-student K-8 school will be built on a 30 acre parcel as part of a P3 project there. Earlier last month, Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) in Maryland approved a P3 to deliver a series of new K-8 public schools in the area. 

There are a number of reasons why a school district might employ a P3. For example, large school districts might face inordinate amounts of backlogged maintenance. This was the case with PGCPS, which had an $8.5 billion facilities budget deficit. Or a school district needs a robust solution to workforce housing issues to attract new educators, as was the case with Monroe County. At the end of the day, there are a plethora of reasons and mechanisms by which a school board can utilize P3’s but as Jason Washington, associate superintendent for supporting services at PGCPS put it, “You have to start with the end in mind: why are you doing it? You have to keep in mind where you’re trying to go, as it can’t be a vanity project. Ultimately, it’s important to understand your community’s wants and needs.

The first step will have to come from the public sector with identifying those needs, and then identifying P3’s as a possible solution. School districts, however, will also need to understand that P3’s are not a silver bullet and that they are very complex, requiring deep understanding and commitment to make them work. The upside however is being able to target specific needs in the community, with potentially multiple brand new schools and supporting infrastructure like housing being built at a pace and price never before seen. These projects show that P3’s can be used to deliver successful educational facilities, and not just traditional horizontal infrastructure projects. 


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