$15.8M project up for review

By The Mercury

City commissioners will be asked Tuesday to commit to a $16 million expansion project at the Manhattan Regional Airport terminal.

The commitment, which will be sought at a special meeting at 5 p.m. in the commission chambers at City Hall, is in the form of a two-phase contract that would be awarded to The Weitz Company, which submitted the combined low bid for both phases of work envisioned at the airport. Although commissioners will be asked to commit to both phases, only the first phase of construction — estimated to cost about $9.1 million — will be undertaken immediately.

Federal Aviation Administration funds are expected to cover about 80 percent—$7.876 million — of that first phase total, with the city picking up the remaining $2 million.  The second construction phase, estimated to cost $6.68 million, will follow the first phase and the cost will be split on the same basis.

City officials have said the expansion is made necessary by significant increases in airport activity over the past several years.

The Weitz Company, which is based in Iowa and has a regional office in Kansas City, submitted the low bid for the two combined construction phases, although its $9.12 million bid for the first phase alone was not the lowest. Two other bidders, McTech Corp and McPherson Contractors, submitted lower bids for the first phase. But because city officials stipulated that bids for both phases be considered jointly, Weitz emerged as the low overall bidder.  All four bids received by the city were significantly higher than the $12.9 million estimate provided by Mead and Hunt, a consulting firm hired last year to prepare expansion plans. But in information provided to commissioners in advance of Tuesday’s meeting, Mead and Hunt officials said they were not concerned that the bids had come in more than $2 million high. They cited a short time window to prepare the bids — contractors had been given only about three and one-half weeks to prepare bids — along with the fact that all four bids came in relatively close to one another as reasons not to be concerned with the higher-than-estimated figures.

Officials also noted that Weitz has requested a waiver to usual FAA “buy American” regulations.

Downtown projects

Following the special meeting, commissioners will hold a work session at which they will discuss financing options for three projects in the south end redevelopment project. The three are the conference center, garage and exhibit areas of the Flint Hills Discovery Center. At issue in each case is whether commissioners want to alter the length of the bond issues and also whether they want to use economic development fund money to assist with the financing.

When the projects were constructed, temporary notes were used as an interim step. The permanent financing strategy decided upon by the city is expected to go into place with the sale of bonds in November. Commissioners could choose to pay off the bonds over 10, 15 or 20 years.

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