By Iris Richmond. For Jim Previti's Empire Cos., based in Irvine, Calif., there's nothing more unsightly in a master planned community than a withered sign that reads, "Future School." Rather than wait what could be four or five years for the school district to start building classrooms, the company, which builds luxury homes under the Prestige Homes name, subcontracts with vendors to do the construction. Alternatively, it hires a general contractor or an architect and builds the schools itself.

Empire covers the cost of building the school, and repayment comes in the form of either impact fee abatement or a reimbursement plan from the school district. While up-front development costs are greater, the company pays nothing out of pocket because the cost is rolled over to the sale of the homes, says Louis Desmond, the builder's director of communications. Empire completed its second school this past spring, in Fontana, Calif., under the guidance of an outsourced general manager. Its first school is in Corona, Calif., where Temecula-based TurnKey Schools of America, a consultant to builders, aided the company.

"City managers and elected officials remember an enterprise that benefits a community," says Desmond. "It also inoculates us from the major complaint voiced by community members who say, 'You're going to overcrowd our schools [by building new housing].' We can reply with, 'We're building the school.'"

Published in BIG BUILDER Magazine, October 2002