The Wichita City Council made quick work Tuesday of the $110,000 decision to shorten the waits at Wichita Mid-Continent Airport’s security checkpoint by adding a fourth lane. If only the bidding mess for the new terminal could be resolved as swiftly, so the project finally could get started in anticipation of Southwest Airlines’ long-sought arrival.
As it is, the city is taking flak for disqualifying the low bidder for the $100 million construction job, Dondlinger & Sons and partner Hunt Construction. The city determined, and the Federal Aviation Administration agreed, that the Dondlinger bid failed to meet, or demonstrate good-faith efforts to meet, the goal that at least 7.11 percent of the project work go to disadvantaged business enterprises such as minority-owned firms.
So the city went with the second-lowest bid, Key Construction and Walbridge Aldinger Co.
The Dondlinger group has formally challenged that decision, with its attorney suggesting the city should either rebid the project or turn the dispute over to arbitration – or invite a lawsuit.
But wording in a recent FAA letter to director of airports Victor White justifies city officials’ fears that a reversal of the bidding would put $50 million in needed federal funding at risk: “FAA cannot participate in an award to Dondlinger-Hunt regardless of an arbitration finding.”
Given its budget problems, the city cannot afford to lose federal funding to help pay for the terminal, in addition to passenger fees, facility charges, airport revenue, rents and landing fees.
Nor can it afford to give up on a replacement for its 58-year-old terminal. Wichita still needs to meet post-Sept. 11 requirements for behind-the-scenes baggage inspection space, as well as the public expectation of a roomy area to wait for arriving passengers. And the electrical, heating and cooling systems are badly outdated. The status quo won’t cut it any longer, especially given Southwest Airlines’ commitment to serve Wichita as it integrates AirTran Airways into its schedule.
The City Council first voted to proceed to design on a new terminal in October 2004, with a tentative completion date of 2009. Now, the revised target of late 2014 or 2015 is in doubt because of the bidding flap.
Wichitans have to trust that the internal administrative review and subsequent appeal hearing before the City Council will resolve the dispute and end the delay.
Postponing the new terminal won’t make it any less expensive – or less needed.
For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman