Jackson bond projects on schedule, on target

The aerial view shows UM Health System facilities encircling the Jackson Memorial Health System at its location west of downtown Miami.
The aerial view shows UM Health System facilities encircling the Jackson Memorial Health System at its location west of downtown Miami. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

Like so many Miami-Dade voters, I approached Jackson Health System’s 2013 bond campaign with mixed feelings. I was excited by the vision of a modernized Jackson transforming for its second century of care-giving, but wary of the management and oversight of such a huge sum of money at a public agency famed for clinicians, not construction.

Even after the $830 million bond was approved by a resounding 65 percent of voters, I remember hoping that Jackson could live up such huge expectations.

Unlike most Miami-Dade voters, I ended up with a front-row seat to these early days of that 10-year plan — I am a charter member of the independent Citizens’ Advisory Board created by Commissoner Audrey Edmonson and her colleagues on the Board of County Commissioners.

Our diverse group of 11 members brought extensive experience in law, contracting, architecture, engineering, accounting, and other fields that are essential to managing a major capital program.

We began optimistic but skeptical, calling for the Jackson staff to provide extensive details on the specific projects, the spending of dollars, the process for choosing contractors, and the public transparency.

We have challenged them to reach for industry best practices and called upon them to recognize the importance of hiring local businesses and building a team that looks like our community.

Every time, the team led by Jackson President & CEO Carlos Migoya and Public Health Trust Board of Trustees Chairman Joe Arriola rose to the occasion. They treated our volunteer board as an asset and a partner, and they were always responsive to our questions and advice. Nearly every project we have reviewed — more than $530 million worth so far — has been unanimously recommended for approval to the Trust Board — not because we were a rubber-stamp group, but because Jackson’s team and our board members embraced the opportunity to collaborate.

On July 27, we reached a major milestone, recommending the approval of nearly $251 million worth of construction-management contracts to teams that will lead five of the health system’s largest construction projects: a new rehabilitation hospital, a new healthcare campus in the City of Doral, and major renovations at the Jackson Memorial, Jackson North, and Jackson South campuses.

Thanks in part to the urgings of our group, each of those major projects is anchored by three key players: a renowned architecture firm, a major construction-management team with substantial healthcare experience, and a locally owned and operated small construction business joining the team as a protégé.

These small local companies will be directly involved in overseeing every element of the projects; when they are finished, they will have the kind of direct experience that lets them better compete to be prime contractors on future projects in Miami-Dade and elsewhere.

This isn’t required by state law or local ordinance — it’s a demonstration of the way that innovative partnerships can help our businesses grow and thrive.

Our committee’s quarterly reports are posted online and I invite you to review the work.

As we reminded the Jackson staff when we met in late July, the high level of expertise and professionalism shown during this planning phase are admirable — but they are not nearly enough. The hardest work begins now, as Jackson moves beyond the smaller renovation projects and launches the huge construction work that will modernize Jackson’s appearance but also its critical mission.

Our entire community should be proud of the way this work is getting done: quickly but deliberately, professionally and transparently, strategically and civilly. If the first few years of this project are any indicator, we will all proudly look to the Jackson Miracle Building program as a model for modernizing a community-owned treasure.

José Luis Gómez is a professional engineer and chairperson of the Jackson Bond Citizens’ Advisory Committee.