EducationLocalPrince George's CountyWilliam J. Ford

Prince George’s $1.2B Public School Construction Project Approved by Council

With final negotiations set to transpire on a $1.2 billion public-private partnership (P3) project, some residents and education advocates offered some recommendations for Prince George’s County officials to incorporate into the contract.

A few of the proposed measures sent to County Council and public school officials include: preference given to contractors who hire returning citizens, or those formerly incarcerated; a minimum penalty of 15 percent of total cost of the project for missing set dates for completion; and a minimum of 40 percent of all total contracted workforce must be Prince George’s County residents.

“If those things are not in the contract, then Prince George’s County are raked over the coals and no one has any excuse for that,” Janna Parker, an education advocate of Temple Hills, said Saturday, Oct. 24.

Parker and others with the Keep PGCPS Public Coalition are part of a group that expressed concerns P3 project funding, specific project details and what the conditions will be when children return to school, especially amid a global pandemic.

But the school board still nearly voted unanimously on Oct. 21 to build six schools using the P3 model.

The majority Black jurisdiction will be the site of the first effort in the nation to use a public private partnership to build public schools.

“I am so proud to be at this point where we’re going to be stepping out in front of the crowd and being looked upon as trend setters on building new schools quicker,” said Sonya Williams (District 9), one of 11 school board members to approve the plan. “This is not the end of this issue. This is the beginning.”

Before any dirt gets shoveled and bricks laid down, final contract negotiations will take place for the private companies to maintain each school for a 30-year period.

Because up to three months of negotiations are scheduled with some discussions held closed doors, that’s one of several reasons board member Raaheela Ahmed (District 5) voted against the project.

“That’s kind of concerning for me,” she said. “With a deal this big and understanding the risks, this is what’s important to me and I think that’s where some controversy lies.”

Board member David Murray (District 1) abstained.

The board already chose Fengate Capital Management, headquartered in Toronto, Canada, and Gilbane Development Co., based in Providence, R.I., to lead and manage the project. Stantec, an architecture firm with offices in northwest D.C. and Laurel, Md., is chief architect, and Honeywell of Charlotte, N.C. is services provider.

Five of the six buildings are not only middle schools, but are sited inside the Beltway.

About 8,000 students are slated to occupy these schools: Walker Mill, Drew Freeman, Kenmoor, Hyattsville and Adelphi middle schools. A new southern area school would be built for students in kindergarten through eighth grade.

According to a summary of the alternative construction financing document, about 40 percent of the county schools are at least 60 years.

About eight hours before last week’s vote, PGCPS CEO Monica Goldson and County Executive Angela Alsobrooks voiced support for the project at a news conference at Drew Freeman Middle School in Suitland.

The 60-year-old building originally housed La Raine High School, an all-girls Catholic school next to Suitland High School.

A major point made by school and county officials is this project won’t increase taxes because it would come from money designated in the school’s capital budget.

According to a summary agreement, about 30 percent of the contract is earmarked for minority-owned businesses and a minimum of 20 percent toward those located in Prince George’s.

In addition, the effort is designed to help address an $8.5 billion backlog in school construction, build the new schools at a faster rate in about three years and save about $174 million in deferred maintenance and construction costs.

Officials said the traditional route of school construction takes between seven to 13 years.

The most passionate comments came from Elsie Jacobs, who not only worked at Drew Freeman for seven years but also resides in Suitland.

“It’s [about] time that somebody does something for these kids over here in this community,” she said.

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William J. Ford – Washington Informer Staff Writer

I decided I wanted to become a better writer while attending Bowie State University and figured that writing for the school newspaper would help. I’m not sure how much it helped, but I enjoyed it so much I decided to keep on doing it, which I still thoroughly enjoy 20 years later. If I weren’t a journalist, I would coach youth basketball. Actually, I still play basketball, or at least try to play, once a week. My kryptonite is peanut butter. What makes me happy – seeing my son and two godchildren grow up. On the other hand, a bad call made by an official during a football or basketball game makes me throw up my hands and scream. Favorite foods include pancakes and scrambled eggs which I could eat 24-7. The strangest thing that’s ever happened to me, or more accurately the most painful, was when I was hit by a car on Lancaster Avenue in Philadelphia. If I had the power or money to change the world, I’d make sure everyone had three meals a day. And while I don’t have a motto or favorite quote, I continue to laugh which keeps me from driving myself crazy. You can reach me several ways: Twitter @jabariwill, Instagram will_iam.ford2281 or e-mail, wford@washingtoninformer.com

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