Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
June 22, 2017 9:40 a.m.
After years of discussion and debate, the Fernandina Beach City Commission (FBCC) at their June 20, 2017 Regular Meeting approved the award for construction of the General Aviation Terminal Building Project at the Municipal Airport to F&G Construction. But not unanimously. Commissioner Roy Smith voted in opposition.
Most of the half hour devoted to this item reflected a back-and-forth between Smith and Andrew Holesko of Passero Associates, the city’s airport consultant. Despite previous approvals and buy-in from committees and the FBCC over several years, Smith declined to support the design concept, citing the high costs associated with the unique design, among other issues.
The next step will be an intensive review of the F&G proposal to find additional savings. Passero Associates will also work with F&G to resolve the price issues associated with the proposed tail section of the building.
Although the award of contract was approved 4-1, F&G has not been given the green light to begin work. Once Passero Associates completes value engineering and true costs have been determined, a financing package will be developed and come before the FBCC for approval.
The public speaks
Mayor Robin Lentz began consideration of the item by inviting four individuals to present their issues and comments to the FBCC.
- Andrew Curtin raised questions about what appeared to be the exclusion of the nose and tail elements of the building’s design meant to suggest F4U Corsair, the failure to include the cost of a generator for the building, which is also intended to serve as a disaster recovery center. He asked the FBCC to pull the plug on the project now. He asked that a much smaller building be designed and that it be decoupled from the FBO issue.
- Medardo Monzon suggested that a previous design calling for a rectangular building would be more economical to build. He asked how the current design evolved and what type of oversight the project had received.
- Lou Goldman suggested that the building was not needed and would not be used. He asked that a delivery date be included in the proposed contract, if the FBCC should move forward with it.
- Charles N. Corbett, a former city commissioner, questioned the financing of the project, claiming that the city only has $2.9M in hand to spend on a project estimated to cost $4.4M. City Manager Dale Martin explained that the city has money from FDOT. He said the airport would take out a
loan for approximately $800K. Debt service would be paid from income received from non-aeronautical events held at the airport. Corbett challenged Martin on available monies. Martin said that as a separate action, “before the first shovel of dirt is turned,” the FBCC will need to approve a financing package. “The airport, not the city, will borrow the money,” Martin emphasized. He also reminded Corbett that all of the money will come from user fees, not tax dollars.
Andrew Holesko, representing Passero Associates, was recognized to answer any commissioner questions.
Passero Associates explains the bid
Holesko briefly walked commissioners through the bid package in an attempt to explain what the final recommendation included. (See: http://fernandinaobserver.org/2017/06/13/evaluation-committee-to-recommend-fg-to-construct-airport-terminal/ ). He emphasized that the item before the commission did not include a notice to commence construction. He said that F&G was being recommended
because they were the low bidder for the base building and base site. “The reason that we did not recommend the tail,” Holesko said, “was the wide variations in price in the bids received. To us that means there is something inside that cost that doesn’t make sense. We would not recommend awarding a bid for that aspect because we know what the supplier can build the tail section for. During the review period we plan to meet with F&G construction, should you award them the bid, to compare each of these line items to obtain additional savings.”
Holesko noted for the commissioners that between the first bid opening and the second bid opening there had been significant savings achieved. He added that additional grant funds have also become available.
Smith questions project’s costs and benefits
Commissioner Roy Smith said that his questions had still not been answered. He asked about the nose and tail sections of the plane and how they could have been omitted from the final bid when the point of the design was to suggest an airplane.
Holesko said that the base building would have a canopy tail section, but not as substantial as the one called for in the additive bid element. He stressed that the city will be building a building, not an airplane. “We are trying to keep the essence of a plane in silhouette features. If we can come to agreement on a price, the more substantial tail and nose sections will be built, and the ones provided for in the base bid will come out.”
Smith asked about other bid additives, suggesting that F&G was the highest on those because he assumed they did not want to do that work. “My question to you,” he said to Holesko, “is why we’d want a sort of screwed up looking airplane instead of just a normal building? You’ve got wings hanging out there. I know it costs more to build on a curve than rectangular. I did some research on this and the best I can find out is that the idea for the plane came from Passero. And your original estimate for that was way under what came in. So I don’t know why we are even talking about this tonight.” Smith raised objections over the costs and asked, “What do we get out of it? An office for an airport manager. An office for the airport supervisor and a little meeting room. The rest of the building will be 8 Flags FBO. How much are they going to pay us in rent for that building?”
City Manager Martin replied that the city is still in negotiations over that matter.
Mayor Lentz asked why the generator was not included in the bid. Holesko explained that the airport currently has a generator that can provide power to the terminal and already provides power to the airfield.
In following up on Monzon’s question, Lentz asked Holesko to recap how the building design came about.
Holesko said, “Passero Associates supports the design of every concept that we have ever brought to the city. We did not select the airplane concept, and it does not make a difference to Passero if we use the rectangular building. I will tell you that we heard both favorable and critical comments on the smaller building as well as the two-story building and other options we brought forward to the Design Review Committee.
“The project actually started off in these chambers 3-4 years ago with the development of an Airport Master Plan. There were 25-28 members of that committee, one of the largest committees we’ve ever worked with for an airport master plan. …
“After that there was a group of city staff members and volunteers who drove and spent a whole day looking at other airport general aviation terminals in Northeast Florida. There were 15 or 18 of us who spent about 15 hours together to get an idea what other airports had done and why they had done it.
“Then the City Commission appointed a Design Review Committee that met 4-5 times last year in the upstairs conference room [to develop design and plan details]. That group made a unanimous recommendation to the City Commission. When we presented it to you, the City Commission approved it unanimously. And that’s how we got where we are today.”
Vice Mayor Len Kreger agreed with Holesko’s account and said he would recommend approval of the contract award. “When the financing comes back to us for approval, there is no guarantee that there will be additional savings from value engineering,” Kreger said. Commissioner Tim Poynter seconded Kreger’s motion.
Other voices weigh in
Audience member Julie Fereirra was recognized. She asked if federal funding for the project would be adversely impacted if the city did not build the emergency shelter. She continued, “If you keep changing your mind, I’ve watched this over and over for 14 years. You make a decision. You change your mind. You make change orders. People disagree. We change the design. Is it a hurricane operations center? How much have we paid Passero to date for this project? You need to look at what’s been spent and what’s going to be spent. I don’t have a dog in this fight.”
City Manager Martin asked for a few minutes to put the proposed project in perspective. “Earlier we talked about the marina, which is a losing enterprise fund borrowing $4M and adding debt service of $300K to an existing debt load of $363K versus the airport, which is making money and has zero contributions from the General Fund. We have different competing constituencies that say, “Well, it’s okay to borrow $4M to do something at the marina and require additional taxpayer dollar support from the General Fund versus a different constituency at the airport that is able to sustain itself including the financing of the proposed terminal project.”
Commissioner Tim Poynter said, “The only point I’d like to make is we’ve been talking about this project since 2012. And here we are, at the point to make a decision that we’ve had tremendous community engagement in. And now we are saying that we should look at a new design? You wonder how things don’t get done? This is how they don’t get done. Previous commissions have voted on this—unanimously—up to where we are now. And now there are questions at the witching hour about the design that has been unanimously approved by several commissions.”
Smith told Poynter that he understood what he was saying, but he objected to spending three-quarters of the money in the Airport Enterprise Fund “just to build some odd looking building. I would rather build a normal building and see the airport be able to build the Quonset hut meeting room. They could charge rent for the meeting room. At least then I’d see we were getting something for the money.”
Smith went on to suggest that he sees the Airport Enterprise Fund as somewhat of a reserve fund to be tapped in the event of an emergency. “I think we are a terrible steward of the taxpayers’ money. You can say that it’s federal money but still …”
Holesko clarified that the building has been engineered to withstand a Category 4 hurricane, not a Category 5 with unlimited wind speeds, and is intended to serve as a hurricane recovery center, not as a hurricane shelter. Andrew Curtin concurred and returned to the podium to speak to the airport’s funds as essential to maintaining the third runway.
When the vote was taken, all commissioners but Smith supported the contract award.
After the meeting
A conversation with Andrew Holesko following the meeting provided additional clarification on the confusion over whether or not the plans called for building the “airplane” tail and nose sections.
Holesko said in an email, “It has always been the intent to build the tail, and build it with the main building, if possible. The tail was separated from the main building in the bid because it is “not required” to build and operate the building. We don’t want it “buried” in a large building cost, because we know that it is a specialty fabrication item (and needs attention as such). Specifically we don’t want it to delay the main building construction if additional funding is needed.
“We didn’t recommend the tail bid additive to F&G this week because of wide variation in bid costs. We will be able to conduct a detailed review of the F&G bid on this item, leading to future consideration of an award within a reasonable budget as determined by City, since Passero is aware of another tail section supplier with a much lower cost than shown in F&G bid.
“The base bid (without main tail section) does have a small canopy on both the airside and landside entrances, if the tail is not constructed with main building. Again, always the intent (which continues now) to build the tail, and build it with the main building, if possible.”
The city has held many public meetings on this project over recent years. Just since 2016 the list includes:
City Building Committee (public) meetings:
- Jan 14, 2016
- Feb 11, 2016
- Apr 21, 2016
- June 10, 2016 (unanimous approval of concept)
Airport Advisory Commission:
- Presentation and review of building committee concept June 9, 2016
- Updates (every other month) August 2016 to May 2017
- June 21, 2016 (unanimous approval of concept)
- August 8, 2016 (unanimous approval of authorization to design and bid)
- Design/Bid update Jan 3, 2017
Previous FBCC action has been unanimous support of the project as designed.
Readers interested in learning more about this project may search the Fernandina Observer for additional articles and details from previous meetings.
Editor’s Note: Suanne Z. Thamm is a native of Chautauqua County, NY, who moved to Fernandina Beach from Alexandria,VA, in 1994. As a long time city resident and city watcher, she provides interesting insight into the many issues that impact our city. We are grateful for Suanne’s many contributions to the Fernandina Observer.