Calgary’s public school system is looking for private- sector partners in upgrading old schools and building new ones.
The school system’s wish-list for repair and maintenance of existing schools and construction of new buildings amounts to about $350 million.
The Calgary Board of Education (CBE) estimates the work could last five to 10 years.
The board has called for expressions of interest from business for public-private partnerships (P3s). In P3 projects, both the public and private- sector partners share the financial risks and rewards.
It’s a pre-qualification process “so we can shortlist groups that we can work with in a real partnership,” said Don Dart, superintendent of business operations and environmental services for the CBE.
The board says the information will be used to develop a short-list of three to four candidates, which will then be invited to participate in the formal request for proposals.
Dart told a news conference last week that submissions made in response to the current notice will be evaluated early in the new year.
He added there is a significant maintenance backlog at existing schools as well as a high need for new schools in suburban areas.
Western Canada High School, for example, has aging facilities with modifications that could require $25 million, a significant challenge even for the government to take on, he said.
Trustee Lynn Nishimura said in a later interview that trustees have to make decisions on both what is best for students and what is fiscally responsible. Up to 500 students are being bused out of some neighbourhoods.
Bill Arnott, president of the Calgary Construction Association, said that while the P3 concept is still new, its advantages and disadvantages will be more clearly seen after the downtown law courts are completed.
That provincial government project will see a 1.1-million-square-foot justice facility built downtown between 4th and 5th Streets and 6th and 7th Avenues S.W. It is in final negotiation with potential partner GCK Consortium of Calgary. The building is scheduled to open in the fall of 2006.
Arnott said his personal view is that P3s are a good idea. Governments will get well- constructed buildings that can be used for another purpose when their original mandate is gone – as in a school whose neighbourhood no longer has young children.
Governments shouldn’t have to put up the money for everything, he added, noting that colleges and universities must frequently raise funds.