The design process for a new terminal building at the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport could get started as soon as March or April of next year, county and airport officials said Thursday.
The project to design and build the terminal has a baseline price tag of $120 million, but that figure likely will climb over time given rising costs related to inflation, construction materials and labor, Airport Director Dan Bartholomew said following Thursday’s airport advisory board meeting.
“That figure [of $120 million] is an extreme guess right now,” Bartholomew said.
From start to finish, or design to completion, the project is estimated to take about five years, Bartholomew said. That means if all goes well, the community could have a new airport terminal in 2027 or 2028, he estimated. The public will be involved in the process through a series of open houses and comment opportunities, he added.
However, a lot has to happen before the initiative can take flight. County and airport officials must get permission from the Federal Aviation Administration to begin the design process at the same time that an official “airport layout plan” is being created by private consultants. The plan, commonly referred to as an ALP, is a document that will incorporate the numerous “common ground” recommendations that resulted from the 2019-20 ASE Vision process that laid out general concepts for the airport’s future (ASE is the three-letter identifier for the local airport).
Officials want to ensure that the FAA will be willing to assist with financing the terminal design despite the fact that the ALP won’t be finished until fall 2023. Completion of the ALP also is seen as key to getting federal funding for the overall airport expansion project, which may involve a controversial runway widening to accommodate larger commercial aircraft, given predictions of the expected phase out of CRJ-700 aircraft currently used by airlines serving the Aspen market.
Many critics of airport expansion have voiced fears — before and during the ASE Vision process, and ever since the so-called common ground recommendations were largely approved by the Pitkin Board of County Commissioners in late 2020 — that the runway widening will lead to the use of noisy jumbo jets by commercial and private jet operators. In particular, critics oppose the local presence of various models of the Boeing 737, despite comments from officials and expansion supporters who say 737s wouldn’t be used in Aspen’s market because they lack the technical prowess and efficiency to handle the mountainous terrain surrounding the airport on a consistent basis.
While the future of airside improvements is somewhat unsettled, the airport advisory board in recent monthly meetings has appeared willing to proceed with planning for the terminal project. At Thursday’s meeting, board members voted unanimously on a “project delivery method” for the design and construction of a new terminal. Several options were presented, with officials, consultants and board members favoring what’s known as a “construction management at-risk” approach over a “design-bid-build” system.
Under the latter system, a company is chosen to design a project, and then the county puts out a request for bids on construction. The process, officials and consultants said, can result in a lower project price — but often leads to litigation due to “disconnects” between the designer and the contractor.
Under the “CMR” system favored by the board, a contractor is chosen up front through a request for qualifications. The contractor basically serves as construction manager and works with the designer and the client from the beginning. At some point during the design process, a “guaranteed maximum price,” or GMP, for the project is derived from the contractor (through negotiations) prior to the start of construction.
Downsides to the CMR process, according to consultant Brad Jacobsen who is overseeing the ALP process, are greater upfront costs and a project that doesn’t move as quickly. County officials explained that the terminal project will rely on myriad funding sources, including airport funds in reserve, new FAA funding and reimbursements, assistance from commercial airlines and perhaps a bond issue.
In other business, the airport advisory board discussed a draft of a report on a baseline for greenhouse-gas emissions caused by airport operations and aircraft activity. An ASE Vision recommendation seeks “to implement strategies to reduce emissions by at least 30% as soon as possible, but no later than 2030.” There has been debate among board members as to how to achieve the baseline figure on emissions in order to achieve that goal.
Board members agreed that the report, relying on data supplied by county consultant Mead & Hunt, was incomplete because it didn’t take into account emissions from the building occupied by fixed-base operator Atlantic Aviation, the company that manages private-jet activity at the airport. Consultants said they would try to gather the data prior to next month’s meeting so that advisory board members can finally establish and approve an emissions baseline, perhaps bringing a topic that has been discussed for several months to a close.
By: Andre Salvail I Aspen Daily News I October 21, 2022