City to handle airport work differently

A new management process promoted by City Manager Sheryl Sculley will be rolled out as the city prepares to spend $637 million in new construction at San Antonio International Airport over the next five years.

Airport expansion is needed to accommodate increases in commercial airline traffic and record-breaking boardings at the airport, which last year topped 8.03 million passengers, the City Council was told Thursday.

Airport Director Mark Webb said he expects the record won't stand for long.

Because the airport's operations are self-funding, "citizens will have the advantage of basically a new airport, and it won't have cost taxpayers a penny," Mayor Phil Hardberger said.

In approving a $3.7 million pre-construction contract, the city initiated a process designed to guarantee that timetables are met and expensive cost overruns minimized.

Called "construction manager at risk," the process streamlines the construction process and cuts down on change orders, Sculley said. It has been used by private enterprise for years, and also is used by the cities of Dallas, Houston and Phoenix, where Sculley served as assistant city manager.

The process also should reduce the number of lawsuits that can result from contractors and cities fighting over who's responsible for cost overruns caused by design changes or related problems.

The new system "is good for the city, but bad for my fellow lawyers, who'll have less opportunity for work," joked Hardberger, a former plaintiffs' attorney.

Typically, a project is designed, put out for bid and then built. The bidder is selected after the design has been approved.

Under the risk management process, the construction manager will be involved in analyzing the design, sequencing the various projects and holding the contractor and sub-contractors accountable for finishing on time.

"We have probably dozens of projects that are interrelated," Webb said, "and this makes sure we have one contractor and one source of accountability."

Some of the airport projects -- a parking garage and a bi-level roadway -- already are under way. Webb said 1,600 new parking spaces will be ready by Christmas, and 1,200 more spaces will be available by fall 2008.

Other renovations include two new terminals, runway expansion to accommodate larger aircraft, an inline baggage system and a larger physical plant.

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