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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

City turns down appeal on airport bid

By Bill Wilson
The Wichita Eagle

A city board on Tuesday unanimously denied a Wichita contractor’s appeal of the winning bid for the new Mid-Continent Airport terminal, the latest development in a dispute that threatens federal funding for the project.

Voting 4-0, the bid board turned down the appeal of low bidder Dondlinger/Hunt, whose $99.4 million bid was rejected when city officials found it didn’t have, and didn’t make a good faith effort to land, enough disadvantaged subcontractors under rules for the terminal project.

The $100 million terminal funding package includes $53 million from the Federal Aviation Administration, an award that requires the winning project bidder to turn over at least 7.11 percent of the work to DBEs, disadvantaged business enterprises generally defined as female- or minority-owned businesses.

“We’re extremely thrilled by the board’s vote,” said Victor White, the city’s director of airports. “We feel like it reinforces the extent of a very meticulous review of this issue by a number of difference sources.”

Dondlinger’s attorney, Wyatt Hoch of Foulston Siefkin, said he was disappointed but not surprised by the ruling.

He said no decision has been made on the next step in the appellate process — a hearing before the City Council — and said the group has not ruled out a lawsuit should the council appeal fail.

The award remains, for now, with the second low bidder at $101.5 million: Wichita-based Key Construction and Wallbridge, a Detroit builder.

City officials said Monday that the FAA wants the project to begin, and any legal delays could jeopardize federal funding.

Rick McCafferty, Key’s executive vice president, said he’s hopeful Dondlinger will step aside so the terminal project can begin.

“We’re pleased that the city has reaffirmed its position to move forward,” he said. “We only hope … they (Dondlinger/Hunt) will step away and let us start the project.”

Central to the debate is the deadline for landing those disadvantaged subcontractors. City officials and attorneys say the deadline is clear: the Feb. 24 bid opening date.

But Dondlinger officials argue that as the low bidder, they were required to certify only that they’d commit to meeting the goal — which they say they met with the addition of two disadvantaged-business contractors whose deals were inadvertently omitted from the original bid, and two more who have become certified as disadvantaged subcontractors — at least a month after the bid deadline, according to airport officials.

Dondlinger wanted the bid board to uphold its appeal and either award the firm the terminal contract or else agree to rebid it, actions city officials said will jeopardize the FAA funding and effectively kill the terminal project.

FAA officials have concurred in writing with the city’s decision to award Key/Wallbridge the terminal contract, and have argued, again in writing, against any restoration of the low bid to Dondlinger.

Alan King, the city’s director of public works who chaired the bid board, left the meeting without commenting, as did the other board members. Only four voted, after Deputy City Attorney Brian McLeod recused himself from Monday’s hearing after representing the airport in earlier legal proceedings surrounding the terminal bid.

Dondlinger president Tom Dondlinger did not comment on the bid board verdict, referring all calls to Hoch.

McCafferty said Key/Wallbridge is ready to go to work as soon as the city signs off on the contract.

“We’d be very accommodating to them,” he said. “We hope we can come to some quick resolution that exhausts the appeals.”

Reach Bill Wilson at 316-268-6290 or bwilson@wichitaeagle.com.

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