Miami-Dade Schools

Miami-Dade School Board to vote on program manager for school construction

An engineering firm behind some of the country’s most prominent public works projects may be tapped to oversee $1.2 billion in Miami-Dade school-construction projects.

The Miami-Dade School Board on Wednesday will consider hiring Parsons Brinckerhoff as the program manager of the district’s 21st Century Schools bond issue. If selected, the New York-based company and its team would operate as the district’s private manager and workforce on bond issues, such as determining the needs of each project, scheduling and job supervision.

The board might also approve the issuance of the first $205 million in bonds to sell on the market and $170 million in year-one projects.

And they may secure an extra $103 million in low-interest financing from Citibank to fast-track hundreds of projects at what administrators say will be no extra cost to taxpayers.

“This is a big milestone for us,” Chief Facilities Officer Jaime Torrens said.

Voters approved the $1.2 billion bond issue in November to modernize aging buildings and upgrade technology. Since then, the district’s staff has been planning for the project’s rollout, scheduled to begin this summer and last six or seven years.

Favorable votes from the board would allow staff members to move into design and construction and, through the Citibank financing, possibly shave a year off the work schedule.

Choosing a project manager might be the most important decision the board makes.

“It’s a marriage of sorts,” said board member Carlos Curbelo. “We’re going to be counting on this company, or group of companies, to help us keep our promises.”

Parsons Brinckerhoff’s deal would be for seven years — worth about $3.2 million in the first one, Torrens said. The firm beat out seven competitors.

If hired, the firm, which was recommended by a selection committee and Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, would be tasked with ensuring projects are on time and on budget. The company would also be responsible for immediately bringing problems to the district’s attention.

The district will monitor the company and evaluate its progress annually.

That is different from 1988, when the district last embarked on a $1 billion, bond-funded series of schools construction projects under the supervision of CRSS/WRJ. Two years later, the team was blamed for delays and cost overruns, and the board allowed its contract to expire.

“We’ll never fully empower an entity external to the system with the ability to spend taxpayers’ money without the elected board and its designees having a say and responsibility to ensure the dollars are being used in a most appropriate way,” Carvalho said Tuesday.

Still, Carvalho maintained that Parsons Brinckerhoff is among the country’s best.

The firm, which has offices in Miami, has been around for more than a century and has worked on some of the country’s most prominent projects, including Iraq reconstruction and management of the Los Angeles Unified School District’s massive capital plan.

But amid its successes, the firm has run into controversy.

In Boston, the company was part of a consortium that oversaw the Big Dig tunnel project whose cost ballooned from $2.6 billion to $14.8 billion and was marred by design flaws and a fatal collapse.

Parsons was also accused of failing to hire minority-owned contractors while acting as a consultant on a Miami-Dade Metrorail expansion project in the mid-2000s.

Calls for equitable bond-project distribution and local jobs have been intense, and a school district consultant is conducting a disparity study amid commitments from Carvalho and the School Board to provide fair opportunities to minority- and women-owned firms.

Brian Williams, who heads the district’s newly created Office of Economic Opportunity, said he checked with the county, and Parsons did ultimately hire the contractually required number of disadvantaged firms.

“We went back and looked at the complete history of what they did with the county,” Williams said, noting that the firm has four minority- and women-owned firms on its team.

Representatives of Parsons Brinckerhoff declined to comment for this report.

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