New flight plan
Airport officials study change of course for building project already in progress
Almost everything about the building under construction at Grand Junction Regional Airport, including what to call it, whether to continue building it and how to pay for it, is up in the air.
The Airport Authority will look closely at the building in a study session Tuesday as it grapples with how to proceed.
The building, for which work is well underway, was contracted to be built for $6.2 million, but the actual cost “is looking closer to $8 million,” said airport chief Amy Jordan.
Jordan, the interim director of aviation since Rex Tippetts was toppled by an FBI raid and subsequent internal investigation, said the authority board will have to re-craft the way space within the building is labeled, to say nothing of the name of the building itself, as it considers how to respond to questions about how much of the building can be constructed with federal and other funds.
The structure, for which the foundation has been constructed, is identified as a terminal building but Jordan said a more accurate description is an administrative and fire department building.
Tippetts met frequently with FAA officials in Denver and didn’t consult his staff on the building’s design, said Jordan, who noted that the project would be different had the staff been included in the planning.
As it is, “We have no idea what it will be used for,” Jordan said of the basement space marked for use as “future baggage screening.”
Each change in designation could cost the Airport Authority money — and, depending on the course the airport board chooses, it could potentially wipe out airport reserves.
FEDERAL FUNDING AT RISK
Airport officials already have submitted changes in the way some space is designated on the plans to the Federal Aviation Administration. Those changes affect about 4,000 square feet of the building and reduce the amount of space eligible for FAA funding to about 55 percent, down from 65 percent, by Jordan’s estimates.
Redesignating the structure as an administration building could further reduce the amount of space within that is eligible for federal money, Jordan said.
The plans originally submitted to the FAA designated about 15,200 square feet of the 22,000-square-foot building as eligible for federal funding.
Once the Airport Authority settles on any further changes, the FAA will examine them and decide whether to fund the areas it had considered eligible.
“We anticipate they will not be eligible” for federal funding, Jordan said of the areas that could be affected by changes.
That means the authority will have to find a way to pay for the building with a significantly smaller federal contribution.
In yet another complication, a change in the way the building is designated could affect about $1.1 million in state money set aside for the project.
The Colorado Division of Aeronautics approved a $1.1 million grant toward construction of the building, Director David C. Gordon said, noting the airport had not yet signed the agreement.
“It’s pending,” Jordan said of the state grant. “Rex was supposed to execute it.”
That money was granted based on the understanding that the airport would construct a terminal building, and changing that designation could affect the state grant, Jordan said.
OPTIONS, SPECIFIC CHANGES
One alternative is to simply halt construction, an unattractive option, Jordan said, noting that the roughly $2 million the airport has spent so far on the project would be lost, along with some $2 million in shut-down costs that the airport would have to bear alone.
“The FAA isn’t going to pay for a hole in the ground,” Jordan said.
If the airport decides to change direction, the contractor doing the work, Shaw Construction, “will address them at that time,” Shaw President Clark Atkinson said.
Until then, “We have a binding contract and we are building under the terms and conditions of the contract,” Atkinson said. “We know there are some concerns out there, but we’ve been hired to do a job. We’re good soldiers and we’re going to proceed to do that job.”
The fact is that the airport needs additional space for its staff, Jordan said.
The airport staff has offices about a half-mile from the airport itself, at 743 Horizon Court. It’s been that way for almost three years, ever since the staff decamped to make room for the Transportation Security Administration, which now occupies the authority’s old offices. A meeting room named for Bob McCormick, a onetime board member, is now a training room for the TSA.
The TSA didn’t push the airport staff out, Jordan said.
“Rex decided to lease (space) to the TSA and move us,” Jordan said.
The upshot has been most of the people who run the airport aren’t on site, though. “Our facilities manager is in a closet” in the terminal, Jordan said.
Tippetts was placed on leave after the FBI raid of the Airport Authority offices and then fired last month when the board heard preliminary results of an internal investigation sparked by the raid.
Jordan met Dec. 20 with FAA officials and spoke again with them Monday on a conference call, she said.
“We got a sense of how they feel about the space,” Jordan said.
Among the changes already submitted to the FAA is one eliminating the description of space in the basement as future baggage screening.
The plans called for bag screening to be on either side of a service road through the basement, but for several reasons, baggage screening never would be a practical use for the space, Jordan said.
A room on the second floor was earmarked for a duty officer with the airport’s fire department, when the fire department has no such position.
A break room was labeled a “data room” in an apparent effort to increase the amount of space that could be charged to the federal agency.
Ground-floor areas were labeled as workshops, but “Rex always presented it as space to be leased out,” Jordan said, noting that the FAA wouldn’t pay to build space that would eventually be leased.
Still more problems loom in the form of about $1.5 million in costs associated with the building that aren’t included in the construction contract, Jordan said.
Those costs range from $2,500 for entry mats to $188,000 for networking and computer equipment and $92,000 to buy and install audio-visual equipment. It also says $75,000 is needed for furniture.
DIFFICULTIES JUST STARTING
The work that’s been done so far is all on the airport’s dime, so none of the federal money has been tapped yet, Jordan and board members said.
The airport has about $4.5 million in unrestricted reserves, so it could continue to fund the building, Jordan said, but not without pushing up against its financial limits.
“The problem is, a lot of other expenses are adding up,” such as unanticipated legal fees related to the federal and internal investigations, Jordan said. Specifically, the Airport Authority has received an invoice of $15,000 for a retainer agreement and another for $12,690 for work related to the internal investigation, officials said.
The Grand Junction Regional Airport Authority was established by Grand Junction and Mesa County, each of which appoints three members of the seven-member board. The board appoints a seventh member, who must be approved by the City Council and Mesa County Board of Commissioners.
Mesa County is seeking applicants to be one of its representatives.
Four of the current board members began their service on the board in 2013.
One of the recent appointees, city representative Paul Nelson, said the board’s difficult choices are only beginning.
“It may take a year or two to get through this,” Nelson predicted.
He said he was beginning to question how the airport was run since being appointed in June.
“I thought our board meetings were awfully short,” Nelson said, “and that we didn’t ask enough questions.”