December 4, 2020


March 5, 2020

The verdict is in: Projects need champions

Courthouse projects have become a benchmark for success in the execution of public-private partnerships; global industry leaders delivering these projects share their insight into that success. By David Keniry, editor.
The verdict is in: Projects need champions

On February 3, 2020 Miami-Dade County and Plenary Justice Miami broke ground on the new Civil and Probate Courthouse. This was the third groundbreaking ceremony in the United States held for a new courthouse, to be delivered with a public-private partnership (P3) model, in less than 12 months.

Having monitored this project from planning to financial close with unprecedented scrutiny, I believe Miami-Dade’s Board of Commissioners ability to reach a consensus on getting the courthouse over the line, with a P3 model, is what marks this project out for special recognition.

To reach this stage despite years of high-profile twists and turns that would see most projects fall into the political trap-door is remarkable, admirable and a benchmark for leadership for policymakers in any market.

Being Transparent

Transparency is the reason why I could monitor the project with intense scrutiny, but I also believe this a reason for the successful procurement.

All of the above can also be said for Howard County too and their recognition at the P3 Awards 2019 was well deserved.

These landmark projects in Miami, Howard County and Travis County join the Governor George Deukmejian Courthouse and the adjacent Civic Center in Long Beach on a brief list of social infrastructure P3 projects which have reached financial close in the US, outside the higher education sector.

The importance of transparency must be viewed as a key message for public sector officials and policymakers anywhere who are engaged in a P3 procurement.

The Governor George Deukmejian Courthouse in Long Beach has received numerous gongs since it was completed in 2014. In 2017 I had the privilege of a guided tour of the facility along with dozens of industry folk by Long Beach Judicial Partners, and Judge James Otto.

It is worth noting however, that other markets have also delivered acclaimed courthouse P3s/PPPs including Australia, Canada, the Netherlands and Ireland. The results of the latter I have observed first hand also (as a passer-by only of course!).

As authorities across the global market observe these projects with interest as they evaluate the merits of P3 delivery, I decided to ask those directly involved what the crucial factors were that got these projects over the line, where so many have fallen.

On January 24, Plenary Group added the Civil and Probate Courthouse to its considerable portfolio that includes the South Australian Police and Courts bundle, British Columbia’s Abbotsford Law Courts, Ontario’s Thunder Bay Consolidated Courthouse, and the Long Beach Civic Center.

Honorable Champions

President and chief executive officer (CEO) of Plenary North America Brian Budden believes the success of the Miami-Dade County Civil and Probate Courthouse Project is a result of ongoing commitment and dedication from three key project champions: Chief Judge Bertila Soto, Commissioner Sally Heyman, and the Internal Service Department (ISD) director, Tara Smith.

Budden said: “The Chief Judge was an outspoken consensus-builder, helping to educate the community and elected officials on the importance of an improved, functional, and modern courthouse to the provision of justice services for the residents of Miami-Dade County.

Commissioner Heyman was an early advocate for the project and prioritized the need for the County to improve access to judicial services for all members of the community. ISD Director Tara Smith took the lead in identifying the P3 model as a potential value-optimizing method for delivering this and other critical projects. She also led extensive educational, diligence, and task-force efforts to vet the value proposition and educate other key stakeholders.”

He added: “This led to the implementation of a well-structured and planned P3 procurement based on national best practices. The end result of these efforts is a new, modern, and highly functional courthouse directly adjacent to the existing historical courthouse. The project will be delivered sooner than otherwise achievable under standard procurement and funding methods, at a cost that is more than 30% below County estimates.”

Consultancy IMG Rebel’s portfolio includes the courthouse projects in Miami, Howard and Clackamas. For Clackamas, Rebel has finished the value for money assessment, and are currently supporting the Oregonian county in the budgeting and decision-making process.

Director at the Dutch firm Matt Gill noted: “In both recently closed courthouse P3s [Howard and Miami] the judges and judicial staff were very much involved, from the development of the program, specifications and evaluation criteria to the one-on-one meetings with bidders. In both projects, the judges have been true project champions, while being respectful of the formal allocation of responsibilities between the County (procuring agency and funder) and the judiciary (user). Project champions are crucial for the successful implementation of projects.”

Edgemoor-Star America Judicial Partners (ESJP) is delivering the Howard County Circuit Courthouse in Ellicott City.

Brian Dugan, CEO of ESJP commented “For big P3 projects like this, there needs to be a real need for the project. In Howard County, the prior Administrative Judge, Lenore Gelfman, did a phenomenal job communicating that need to replace the old courthouse, which was originally constructed in 1843, to the politicians, stakeholders, and community. Her leadership helped rally the critical mass of supporters needed to get a big public infrastructure project like this one across the finish line. When Judge Gelfman retired in late 2018, she was succeeded by Administrative Judge William Tucker, who continues championing the project and has been great to work with for me and our entire ESJP team.”

Howard County was challenging from a political front, because there was a split County Council (between Republicans-1 and Democrats-4) with a Republican County Executive. The county executive at the time the project was procured and closed was Allan Kittleman (Republican) and it is now Calvin Ball (Democrat).

Dugan notes: “Thus, having the judiciary aligned with a clear leader and voice to shepherd the project through the process was critical throughout the project, especially in light of the failed Indianapolis Justice Complex P3, which had a similarly split council.”

In a 2019 case study on the Howard County project, the county’s Chief Administrative Officer Lonnie Robbins states ‘P3 projects need an advocate. We were fortunate to have Judge Gelfman tirelessly champion our project from start to finish.’

Stakeholder Investment

The importance of users as champions to offset the political challenges that most P3 projects face, particularly at municipal/county level, has been demonstrated by these courthouse projects. The importance of regard for the user as a stakeholder has also been demonstrated by projects in Ireland and the Netherlands where other stakeholders include national government departments and specialist procurement agencies.

In the Netherlands, Macquarie Capital has delivered and advised on two new courthouses in Amsterdam and Breda through separate design-build-finance-maintain-operate (DBFMO) contracts.

Willem Stitselaar, senior managing director at Macquarie Capital noted: “Both of these DBFMO projects involved the state prosecutor and judiciary in the design process, with the Breda Court development also involving the counsel for child protection. This can help play an important role in getting the working building right…although it important that this is done with a focus on outputs rather than making specific design requirements.”

Stitselaar, who is based in the Australian financial giant’s Amsterdam office, adds: “On both these projects, the Central Government Real Estate Agency (Rijksvastgoedbedrijf), who was responsible for procurement, treated the judicial system as their client – undertaking interviews to ensure their functional needs were addressed and captured in the output specifications. This method helps ensure that whole of life decisions are captured in a way that is not excessively prescriptive or requires an excessive time commitment for the stakeholders on these complex projects.”

A consortium led by the Dutch contractor Royal BAM Group was awarded Ireland’s Courts Bundle PPP by the National Development Finance Agency in December 2015 on behalf of the Courts Service and the Department of Justice and Equality.

The bundle across the country has been a notable success with the Courts Service and the Department now looking to use the model again for a new courthouse in Dublin.

Declan Gallagher, SPV General Manager, BAM PPP, commented: “For us, we had a particular focus on the user experiences for the members of the Judiciary and especially the judges. As part of our initial tender we developed 3D BIM models for the various end users of the courthouses. For the judges it involved a simulated walk through from the car park into their chambers and then into their allocated Courtroom. We wanted to emphasize (particularly for the Judges) the private/safe segregated walk through for them within the facility.

“In addition we designed a safe and secure routeway for each user group within the facilities so as to eliminate any cross over and possible conflict i.e. members of the jury meeting members of the public etc.”

“For members of the judiciary (Solicitors/Barristers) we provided legal practitioners suites including work spaces, breakout zones, and kitchenettes. There are also additional secure interview rooms, ample consultation rooms and vulnerable witness suites (including child witness suites).”

For the judges we provided secure designated car park spaces close to their own personal entrances. We created fresh and vibrant judge only circulation areas complete with lift. Their chambers were designed to give a light filled, secure, and private work space which led directly to the judges particular courtroom. Courtrooms were fitted out with 21st century technology to allow for the efficient use of the Judges work i.e. Digital Audio Recording, video screens, Jury monitors, black-out blinds, advanced speaker systems, remote video links for vulnerable witnesses, acoustic booths for solicitors. These all allow the judge to run a more effective service.

Our strong focus on the end users in no doubt helped us greatly in our winning bid and coming up to 3-years in operation we can see the benefits in the high morale and praise within the Courts Service.

In May 2017 Judge Otto, a champion of the project, demonstrated from his Bench all the new shiny new features in his courtroom with notable satisfaction. It was also notable that day that when a judge speaks, no matter the circumstances, people listen carefully.

That truism also applies to other pillars of society such as police, doctors, nurses, pilots, and teachers.

So if you are embarking on a P3 model for a new project anywhere, the key messages from those that have done it before is clear; the user is both a partner, and a champion. They need to be involved from start to finish.

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The verdict is in: Projects need champions


Courthouse projects have become a benchmark for success in the execution of public-private partnerships; global industry leaders delivering these projects share their insight into that success. By David Keniry, editor.

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