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Missoula airport board agrees to put off key passenger terminal contract decision

Missoula airport board agrees to put off key passenger terminal contract decision

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Construction on a new passenger terminal at Missoula International Airport is at a critical bid stage, and the general contractor has asked for extra time to make sure it’s done right.

The Missoula County Airport Authority agreed Tuesday to table review and approval of Martel Construction's selections for the above-ground phase of the estimated $67 million project.

A special board meeting was set for Jan. 10 to handle a “Guaranteed Maximum Price” package from Martel, one that involves multiple bids for multiple tasks involved in building the core, shell and interior of the new terminal.

“This is a big decision you’re making as an organization, as a board, as a staff, and we want to be sure we give you lots of time to think about it, and ask questions if you have them, not necessarily just today but between now and the 10th,” airport director Cris Jensen told the board.

Tim Damrow, the airport’s projects manager, said 67 unique bids were received after the process began Nov. 20. They’re being vetted for what Martel expects to be in the $36 million to $37 million range. Roughly $21 million of work has already been awarded as Martel, Morrison-Maierle, A&E Architects and subcontractors spent 2019 laying the groundwork.

Now it’s time to go vertical, with late 2021 the completion target for the Phase 1 "South Paw" Concourse.

“This is a very complicated project, probably the most complicated that we’ll do in our careers, and it’s amazing how well it’s gone, what a cohesive team we have,” Jensen told the board. “We feel like we’re in a pretty good place. We’re well within that $67 million target that we’ve been talking about.”

Damrow, who presented a detailed PowerPoint construction update and a look ahead at the airport authority’s year-end meeting, said the airport and Martel want to leave no stone unturned before the Jan. 10 meeting.

“We’re trying to get our apples to apples comparison,” he said. “A lot of this is quantity clarification, making sure contractors understand what quantities are included and what’s excluded, so we can make sure the pricing’s accurate and we’re not missing something. And then we’ll follow up to make sure the low bids can actually perform on their contracts and that there are no questions.”

There’ve been some hiccups, Damrow said, mainly problems with groundwater that had to be solved. 

“I think the whole team’s feeling relatively confident that now that we’re out of the ground … now that we’re going vertical, some of those unknowns should be hopefully few and far between at this point,” he said.

Jensen said the 10-day delay won’t affect the construction timetable.

“We’re still on schedule and continue to be on schedule,” the director said, stressing it's "a project being driving by budget, not a budget driven by time.”

Jensen said Missoula wants to avoid the pitfalls other airports have experienced in complex passenger terminal projects.

The Denver Post reported in August a fired construction team for a terminal renovation at Denver International Airport estimated it would have taken an additional $288 million dollars and an extra 28 months to finish the project. That would have pushed the budget to well over $900 million and extended a project that began in 2018 from a November 2021 completion date to February 2024.

“We want to be careful with the public’s funds and make sure we do it right,” Jensen said. “That’s what this (delay) is really all about.”

The current phase of construction is replacing the west wing of the terminal with the “South Paw” Concourse. Still on the horizon is Phase 2, an “East Paw” concourse with a price tag of an estimated $39 million that’ll replace the current terminal and baggage claim.

Meanwhile, it was a challenging 2019 on the operations end. Summer traffic jams plagued the crowded temporary security lines and untimely fog forced the cancellation of five flights on Christmas Eve.

Final passenger totals will reflect yet another record year, the sixth in a row, with an increase of around 7%. The year ended with fewer seats on the market than at the same time in 2018, but deputy director Brian Ellestad reported growth is in the air. It’s due largely to announcements that Alaska Airlines will start daily nonstop flights to and from Los Angeles International in March and will begin sending larger mainline Airbuses twice a day from Seattle in May.

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Outlying communities, transportation, history and general assignment

Outlying communities, transportation, history and general assignment reporter at the Missoulian

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