Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
On a recent weekday afternoon, men in hard hats and neon safety vests climbed up and down ladders just outside the arrival doors at the Albuquerque International Sunport.
Work crews are a now-familiar presence at the state’s largest airport – and travelers may see more of the same for the next few months as the facility’s “Terminal Improvement Project” approaches the three-year mark.
Airport officials say installation of lights is the last remaining piece of a facility update that former Mayor Richard Berry said would put “the best possible face on Albuquerque we can.”
The contractor, Flintco, has until the end of February to finish the job – that’s according to the 20th change order approved for a project that is now 1½ years behind schedule and about $2.5 million over the initial budget.
Albuquerque aviation director Nyika Allen blames the delays in part on inadequate project “scoping” – which she says is the purview of the city and the architect – and problems with Flintco’s electrical subcontractor. But she said the Sunport has the wherewithal to cover the price increase and that the work has had little effect on the traveling public.
“No one likes to see the ceiling open, that’s for sure,” she said in a recent interview. “But otherwise we’ve been 100% open.”
The work started in early 2017. The objective was to “refurbish and upgrade the ticketing, baggage claim and exterior areas of the terminal,” according to a Feb. 24, 2017, Sunport news release. It was to take 15 months and cost $30 million.
But construction time has since more than doubled and the cost has risen to $32.4 million.
Allen said the city bears some responsibility since it should have anticipated at least a few of the changes ultimately built into the project.
The first change order, for example, was requested in May 2017, less than two months into the job. It totaled more than $900,000 and pertained primarily to the facility’s stucco.
Renovation plans included new, larger windows on the arrivals level, which would require some restuccoing around them. But the project architect told the city in a memo that it was “next to impossible” to match new stucco surrounding windows to the rest of the facade, which was already inconsistent due to age, damage and previous patch repairs. In addition, crews found “extensive unanticipated water and rust damage to the existing structural studs and stucco finish associated with the portico columns” on the second level.
The city ultimately approved restuccoing the entire north facade and portico entrances.
Though Allen did not take over the Sunport until 2018 – as an appointee of Mayor Tim Keller – she cited the stucco as a significant issue that should have been addressed during the project’s scoping phase.
“You can’t really just patch stucco in a tiny spot; you need to do the stucco on that side,” she said. “I don’t know why that wasn’t thought about.”
But changes to the scope of work was not the only problem.
Flintco’s electrical contractor “essentially walked off the job” and had to be replaced, Allen said.
And the electrical contractor apparently left problems in its wake.
In seeking one of its timetable extensions, Flintco’s Rebecca Masters said some of the original electrical contractor’s work had to be redone. She blamed the company for “mis-ordered materials and unsatisfactory work that requires extensive reinstallation or reordering of lighting fixtures and accessories,” according to an Aug. 9, 2019, memo to the project’s architects obtained by the Journal through a public records request.
A Flintco representative acknowledged that replacing the original electrical contractor created delays but said the project also included “unforeseen conditions” and work beyond the original outline.
“Throughout the duration of the project, Flintco has remained flexible and responsive in accommodating the operational requirements of the airport and the traveling public. The vast majority of the project has been completed and remains open,” Steve Eikanger, Flintco vice president and area manager, said in an email, adding that the company was currently waiting for delivery of the last set of decorative light fixtures. “This important infrastructure project is slated for final completion early next year (2020) and will deliver an exceptional result to the City of Albuquerque.”
Allen said the airport has not decided whether to pursue any penalties against Flintco, saying she would evaluate the options once the project is finally finished. In a push for completion, Allen said she had Flintco personnel establish an on-site office and meet weekly with the Sunport staff.
“I think there were a lot of unforeseen circumstances that (Flintco) also had to deal with, (but the contractor’s performance) wasn’t great,” she said. “I think they are working with us now, but I think we should expect a lot from people who are doing public projects and the bar should be set high for these contractors.”
Allen said the Sunport has the self-generated revenue to cover the project. Half comes from a capital fund that airlines pay into, and half from passenger facility charges, she said.