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April 16, 2020
Key considerations for a successful P3 project with Gene McDonald
Considering our current challenges in the COVID-19 environment, many universities will face circumstances beyond their control as we move forward. Public funding shortages, as well as a general ‘re-tooling’ will be required. A recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education stated that “Even a 10-percent drop in enrollment can be enough to set off dramatic cash shortages at some colleges. Particularly at risk are institutions with the higher percentage of international students and students of lower financial means.”*

As universities look to expand their competitiveness and continue to adapt in a new pandemic world, the concept of Public-Private Partnerships, or P3, may be more relevant than ever. Pioneered by private real estate developers, use of the P3 model has increased dramatically in scale over the last 10 years, with projects of greater complexity and size being designed across the nation. Campus developments that were simply student housing in the past are now being conceived as large-scale master plans with multiple university typologies. Dining, recreation, academic classrooms and a myriad of other program types are quickly becoming common place in procurement requests.

With many universities looking toward the future in a quickly evolving construction market, alternative delivery methods will certainly be explored.

As such, it seems fitting to discuss the core aspects of a successful P3 model and how they might contribute to the future of campuses in the US as uncertain times abound.

1. Identifying Challenges and improving Efficiencies -
The fast-paced nature of P3 delivery requires a proactive mindset and all design observations must be viewed through this lens. The University, Developer, Contractor and A/E (Architecture / Engineering) Consultant team must identify challenges very early in the design process. Efficiencies that are identified early can save large amounts of time. The reliance on ‘stop and go’ pricing exercises can create an unwanted drag on the process and prolong the overall schedule.

Ultimately, the goal is a fluid process that will enable the project team to tackle smaller, more manageable challenges and develop continuity.

2. Problem Solving -
At the onset of any project, there are many goals – a beautiful design that moves the spirit, a program that is innovative; all worthy aspirations that define great projects. In a P3 environment, the Project team must go into the endeavor with a desire to solve problems at a high clip. Fast-tracking a design and quickly advancing a schedule are often associated with this delivery method. This frequently requires a significant shift in an institution’s ideology and typical protocols.

Simply put, solving problems is at the heart of a successful academic P3.

3. Capturing the essence of the campus -
Capturing the essence of the campus is a difficult but attainable task. Every campus is different, and it is incumbent upon the Project team to spend some time evaluating important and relevant attributes of the campus. With the challenges of budget, time, and stakeholder involvement, the University and its students can get lost in the mix. Moving quickly, while maintaining the core values of the institution can allow a good team to set baseline priorities for most decisions.

4. Student Success -
With the completion of any project, the question remains – has the project resulted in student success? Are the students, faculty and administration thriving in the new environment and utilizing the architecture as it was envisioned? Perhaps they are occupying the project and finding even new and better ways to use it. This is a measure of success that can only be understood after some time. Activity, social engagement and place-making should be the result of a successful P3 delivery. Campuses across the nation are moving into uncertain times and will explore a multitude of options to curtail costs and generate projects that contribute to their competitiveness amongst peer institutions. The P3 model as a whole can offer flexibility in a number of ways, and this may allow campuses this may allow campuses the space to ‘re-tool’ as they navigate uncharted waters.

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