Plenary Group

The word “plenary” means complete and absolute, so it’s fitting that the principals of Plenary Group chose it to describe their new firm. As a leading investor, developer and operator of public-private partnership (P3) projects throughout Canada, Australia and Singapore, Plenary Group exemplifies a plenary approach to infrastructure development. President of Plenary Group Canada Paul Dunstan says P3 has become more than a curiosity in the in­fra­structure market and has developed into a full-fledged movement hailed by governments and builders around the world as an effective method of project delivery.

“I think it’s a global shift,” Dunstan says. “The model is designed to ensure innovation in delivery.” The firm is beginning to see its first P3 projects in Canada come out of construction as major successes. For example, the firm’s work on North Bay Regional Health Centre in North Bay, Ontario, has helped the massive hos­pital project come in on time and on budget. 

Dunstan says Plenary Group is in good position to make the most of the P3 wave as it continues to crest in North America. Leveraging the experience of its management and executive team, the firm has built a solid team of qualified professionals who understand the ins and outs of P3 projects and anticipates a bright future ahead of it. 

A Team Effort

The P3 model grew out of concerns over public debt in the 1970s and 1980s, as governments sought private investors to help ease the financial burden of infrastructure projects. A program to encourage P3 projects was introduced in the United Kingdom in the early 1990s, but the method really began to take hold in Australia soon after. The model is now established in Canada and is spreading throughout North America, Dunstan reports that Latin America is beginning to see more projects being developed as P3s.

Under the P3 model, a private firm works in conjunction with a government entity to de­sign, build, finance and operate a public facility. The private company assumes the financial risk of building the facility on behalf of the gov­­ernment, and also agrees to operate and maintain the facility for a specified period of time, generally between 20 and 40 years. Dur­ing the period the private firm operates and maintains the facility, it is paid a performance-based regular fee by the government entity, which is used to pay back the capital used to finance the construction and ongoing maintenance. 

The firm says the P3 model provides value to the public because it allows for the best people to be involved on projects without the typical hand-wringing over spending public funds. “Public service facilities can be developed in a truly competitive environment that attracts the most innovative designers, operators and financiers, without upfront public sector funds,” the company says.

“While under contract, the risks associated with such large capital commitments are shared between parties, allocated to those best able to manage them,” the company continues. “Public-private partnership contracts offer the public value for money; providing high-quality facilities on-time and on-budget.” 

Dunstan says Plenary Group has a disciplined regime focused on making sure projects meet or exceed their budget and schedule goals. Before launching the firm, Plenary Group’s founders had been working in the P3 market and saw the growing trend away from large financial institutions to specialist firms that concentrate on one delivery method. 

Founding Principal John O’Rourke has been a transaction leader on more than 20 completed P3 projects, according to the company, and Managing Director Paul Oppenheim – also a founding member of the firm – has more than a decade of experience in the P3 market. Another founder, Director Ray Wilson, has originated and closed a number of P3 projects throughout Australia. Dunstan himself has played senior roles in more than a dozen P3 projects in Canada and Australia valued at more than $2 billion altogether.

A Big Project

One of those projects is the North Bay Health Centre. The 724,000-square-foot facility inc­ludes a state-of-the-art acute care hospital and a modern mental health facility. The $551 million (Canadian) project was developed and built through a P3 contract between Plenary Group’s Plenary Health division, Infrastructure Ontario and the North Bay Regional Health Centre. PCL Constructors was the general contractor on the project, with Johnson Controls Inc. providing additional services. Under the P3 contract, Plenary Health will main­tain the new facility for 30 years after com­pletion. 

“Plenary Health fully appreciates how important his project is for the local region; one the community has devoted vast amounts of voluntary time and fundraising efforts to help bring to fruition,” the company says. “We are very proud to be charged with responsibility for its delivery and ultimately contributing to the healthcare opportunities for the people of this region.” Work on the project began in March 2007, with substantial completion achieved this June. The facility will begin serving patients on Jan. 30, 2011.

The facility is comprised of two portions: the general hospital and the mental health facility. The three-story hospital replaces the existing, outmoded North Bay General Hospital. It features 275 acute care beds and expands the hospital’s services significantly. Its larger emergency department will be able to handle more than 57,000 patients every year, and its ambulatory care center will consolidate all outpatient clinics into a single location capable of treating more than 63,000 patients a year. The hospital’s new inpatient pods are oriented on the south side of the building to maximize exposure to natural light. There are also more single rooms as well as more spacious double rooms for patients.

The mental health facility features more than 110 beds, and is linked to the general hospital through a shared entrance that leads to a “village square” that provides patients and their families with a place to visit. 

Mental health inpatient units are designed to be connected via a corridor system that creates a secure inner courtyard as well as promoting interaction. 

The facility is built around a psycho-social model, which helps prepare patients for reintegration back into society. The inpatient units include features such as kitchens, living rooms and private bathrooms to provide a more homelike atmosphere. 

Dunstan says the North Bay Regional Centre project was at inception the largest construction project in northern Ontario, and represented an enormous commitment for the region. As such, the qualities Plenary Group brought to the table served the project well. 

“I think we brought a lot of experience and discipline in how we manage the project,” Dunstan states. 

Despite the enormous scale of the project and certain project specific challenges such as subcontractors being beset by financial problems, Dunstan says Plenary Group was able to stick to its goals. 

“With such a high-quality team and great construction partner in PCL, we were able to deal with those and not impact the construction schedule,” he says.

Even Bigger

North Bay Regional Centre is one of the largest infrastructure projects ever built in Ontario, but Plenary Group is working on another that’s even bigger. The company began work in April 2009 on the Niagara Health System Health-Care Complex in St. Catharines, Ontario. Team­ing once again with Infrastructure Ontario, PCL Constructors and Johnson Con­trols, Plenary Group entered into a 33-year P3 contract to build and maintain the facility. 

Work on the 375-bed, 970,000-square-foot facility is expected to be completed by November 2012. The project replaces two existing sites and will expand the medical services available to residents of the area, as well as improve the overall quality of care, according to the company. “Healthcare is a competitive industry, and there are shortages of doctors, nurses and other medical professionals across the country,” it says. “This new, world-class healthcare complex will set the standard for healthcare throughout Ontario and across the country, becoming a coveted place to work and attracting the best and brightest to the Niagara Region.”

The new facility also will bring new services to the region, including a cancer center that will provide care to approximately 1,200 patients who now have to travel to Toronto or Hamilton, Ontario, for treatment. A long-term inpatient mental health facility and a cardiac catheterization program will also be available upon completion of the complex. 

Two other key Plenary Group healthcare projects coming on line in 2012 are the Bridgepoint Hospital Redevelopment in Toronto, and the British Columbia Cancer Agency Centre for the North in Prince George.

Bridgepoint Hospital specializes in complex chronic disease management and prevention. Its $622 million project involves the development of a new 472-bed, state-of-the-art replacement facility.  The $72 million (Canadian), 4,200-square-foot Prince George project will include two linear accelerators for radiation therapy treatment and will be built to LEED Gold specifications. 

“We are pleased to have contracted with Plenary Health to design, build, and finance, as well as maintain our new facility in Prince George, through which we will be able to provide cancer services to residents in Northern British Columbia,” Karim Karmali, COO and vice president of the agency, said in a statement.

“We believe Plenary Health is well positioned to deliver an exceptional facility that is in keeping with our agency’s requirements. Plenary Health and its partners bring many unique attributes to this new centre, including longstanding experience and evolving best practices from many other projects.”

Bright Future

Although the P3 model gained traction in Australia, Dunstan says there’s much more work for Plenary Group in Canada. For example, the company recently completed a new headquarters for the Archives of Ontario on the campus of York University. The 130,000-square-foot building houses more than $400 million (Canadian) in archives owned by the province. 

The amount of infrastructure work in Canada means a lot of work for Plenary Group, but it also means a lot of competition. “From our point of view, the market has attracted a lot of global attention and there’s a lot of competition entering the market,” Dunstan says. “It’s good because it does force you to stay on top of your game. It’s a competitive market where you have to continually innovate to be successful.”

Dunstan points to a number of large hospital projects as proof the P3 market in Canada is vibrant. “We’re confident that we’ll win our share of that work,” he says.  

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