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The paucity of bidders on projects at the state's largest airport has provoked concern that the airport is not getting competitive prices for the projects.

But officials at Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport/Adams Field say that while they share the concern of the Little Rock Municipal Airport Commission, they have other ways to ensure the airport is getting a bargain.

The issue was prompted by one major project that drew two bidders and another that drew one. In both cases, the airport staff said the low bids were responsive and recommended contracts be awarded. The commission's lease committee and, subsequently, the full commission accepted the staff recommendations earlier this month.

Weaver-Bailey Contractors Inc. of El Paso was the low bidder on a project to rebuild portions of six taxiways and sections of the general aviation ramp on the west side of the airport so they can better withstand the heavier business jets that use that part of the airport, including the Dassault Falcon aircraft that go to the airport to be completed to customer specifications.

The project also includes the construction of shoulder pavement along Runway 4L-22R at the intersection of Taxiway B, the removal of a helipad, the replacement of runway and taxiway lighting, the addition of signs and pavement markings in the area, and the replacement of drainage structure and pipes within the project area.

Weaver-Bailey's bid of $16,052,008.71 was lower than the $16,472,920.62 bid submitted by R.C. Construction Inc. of Greenwood, Miss.

The project's financing primarily consists of a Federal Aviation Administration grant plus state grants and some matching money from the airport.

The project that received one bid will remove a structure designed to stop aircraft overruns. It was installed after the crash of American Airlines Flight 1420 in 1999.

A 1,000-foot safety area built after the engineered materials arresting system was installed made the system a redundancy under Federal Aviation Administration practices, which require one or the other but not both. The system also has reached the end of its useful life and is deteriorating to the point that it's unsafe for aircraft because pieces of it are breaking off and can interfere with aircraft operations, airport officials say.

Removal of the structure is part of a larger project that includes demolishing the existing asphalt support pavement for the structure; demolishing a 100-by-200-foot blast pad pavement; installing a 200-by-200-foot concrete blast pad in their place; and constructing a 20-foot-wide asphalt perimeter road to run for 3,000 feet to replace a gravel perimeter road.

The bid of $1,459,705.81 by Redstone Construction Co. of Little Rock was the only submission for one of the three project scopes the airport staff prepared.

Redstone submitted bids on all three scopes. One other bidder, Weaver-Bailey, submitted a bid of one scope, which included a concrete perimeter road rather than one built using asphalt. Its bid of $2,078,152.53 was higher than the Redstone bid for that scope, which was $1,672,891.81.

The lack of bids worried members of the lease committee and the entire commission in meetings earlier this month.

"It disturbs me that we only get one bid," Tom Schueck, a commission member, said at the commission's regular monthly meeting last week.

"It is of some concern that there is only one bid," added retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark, the commission chairman. "It leads to the question that maybe we're not making the announcements right or we're not searching hard enough to find other qualified people."

Tom Clarke, the airport's properties, planning and development director, said the airport staff tried to cast a wider net. Options other than a concrete perimeter road were added "when we realized we weren't getting the type of response we needed. We prepared a separate design for asphalt and put that out for bid," he said.

Clarke, as well as Bryan Malinowski, the deputy executive director for Clinton National, emphasized that other checks also were in place to ensure the bids were responsible ones, including engineer estimates. Both project bids were under engineering estimates, according to Clarke.

And Redstone, Clarke added in response to a question from commission member Stacy Hurst, already has a crew mobilized because the company is working on another project at the airport.

Both pointed out that two companies participated in the bidding for the smaller project, though airport staff elected to go with three alternatives, for which only one of the companies submitted a bid. Still, staff members were able to check the unit prices for the various quantities of materials needed for all three alternatives.

"We did go back and look at unit prices," Clarke said. "These are unit-price contracts. We are able to see what the contractor is charging per yard of concrete, per yard of asphalt and make sure that is a reasonable cost."

Still, commission members said they would like to see more companies competing for the work to ensure the airport is getting the best price possible for the work.

"Is it our belief here that in the city or in the central Arkansas community, there are only a couple of firms that are capable of doing this work?" Clark asked. "Or is this a case where people say, 'such and such firm always gets these bids so there is no point in wasting our time preparing the documentation'?

Is this something abnormal or we should be concerned about ... or is it just the way it is here?"

Commission member Jesse Mason also wondered if the projects were too complicated.

"Would it be just safe to say that there aren't the companies out there that are doing this kind of work?" he asked.

Schueck, a steel contractor who also served on the Arkansas Highway Commission, said there might be something to that.

"In flat slab work, it takes a lot of equipment, a lot of raw materials, such as quarries, sand, etc. Usually, the guy who has the best advantage is the guy who owns the quarries, who owns the sand pits and has the flat-work equipment because it is a pretty good-sized equipment.

"Even the highway work I'm familiar with, it's a little tedious to get people from out of state to work on our projects. Some of them are in the $50 [million] to $60 million category. It's difficult when it's specialized work and it takes a lot of money to get into that business."

Another commission member, Jim Dailey, said the issue came up during his time in Little Rock City Hall as a city director and as mayor.

"Generally speaking, we had very little difficulty in getting two bids," he said. "I never noticed it to be a real problem, but it was something we were always on alert about when it looked like we were not getting sufficiently competitive bids."

Bob East, also a member of the commission and a building contractor, said he planned to speak with other contractors to see what the issue is, but he saw challenges unique to working at an airport.

"It is tough working in an airport environment because all of your people have to be badged, check in and you're constantly being subject to aircraft arrivals and taxiway closures and driving on the runway -- you have to have permission to drive," he said. "It's a difficult environment to work in and it's highly scrutinized by engineers.

"This is all heavy paving, where 12,500 pounds and above aircraft can travel on it without causing damage. So it's heavily engineered paving that has to be done exactly right. It is very specialized."

Metro on 09/21/2015

Print Headline: Airport panel concerned by scant bidding

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Archived Comments

  • LR1955
    September 21, 2015 at 8:52 a.m.

    Something else to consider is the bid document's "scope of work" may not be clearly defined. Contractors don't like hidden "gotchas".

    Sometimes designers may be difficult to work with to resolve issues.

    Also the engineer's estimates are usually higher to cover themselves, look good.

    But Bob East said it, it's a tough place to work.

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