FITCHBURG, Mass. -- Commissioners of the city's airport are hoping to hire an engineering consultant to help develop the airport's master plan.
They're also hoping that consultant will submit applications for federal grants by May 1, which is in less than a week.
Kit Walker, who chairs the airport commission, said he doesn't know if that deadline is feasible. He acknowledged that the selection process began later than it should have.
"It probably should have been started a year ago. All of these other projects have taken priority," Walker said Tuesday. "And now we're kind of under the gun."
The consultant will help in planning, design and maintenance plans for an estimated $15,580,000 construction plan, which includes runway, terminal and hangar improvements, Airport Manager Fred Guertin said.
Airport commissioners met Tuesday night to begin selecting the consultant. The meeting was expected to be held in executive session.
The commissioners sought firms' qualifications through a public bidding process in March, and must now decide between the three firms that responded.
One of those firms is Gale Associates, a Weymouth-based firm that has been the airport's consultant for more than five years.
Gale's contract expired in December 2005, Guertin said. The company continued work on projects it had already started, Guertin said, but has been working without a contract.
The airport is required to seek bids for a new consultant every five years, said Guertin, who became the airport's manager in September 2006.
He said part of the delay in seeking a new consultant was "turmoil with management" that preceded his hiring.
"They had started the process before I came on board. ... It kind of got put on the side burner, then it pops up on us," he said.
He learned about two months ago that the deadline to apply for certain Federal Aviation Administration grants was May 1. He and airport commissioners prepared the request for proposals in February, and said the RFQ "got delayed" in the city's purchasing department.
Nancy Wilson, Fitchburg's purchasing agent, was not available for comment Tuesday.
She, along with Deputy Planning Coordinator Larry Cassasa and Assistant to the Mayor Robert Pontbriand, is advising airport commissioners as they hire an engineering consultant.
Commissioners will review the firms' qualifications according to specific criteria, and will prioritize their choices. They will then negotiate a fee with their top-choice firm, Cassasa said.
"It's not going to be possible to have a performance contract signed and ready by May 1," he said.
Airport commissioners did not receive the applications from the three engineering firms until Monday night, Guertin said. Those applications were due to the purchasing department earlier this month.
The FAA grants in question are a $125,000 grant for stormwater pollution prevention and a $350,000 grant for an environmental impact review.
Guertin initially said missing the May 1 deadline could mean the airport loses the opportunity to receive those grants until next year.
But he said in a later conversation that he thinks the airport can get an extension from the FAA.
"They're not going to nail us to the wall, I don't think," he said Tuesday.
Mayor Dan H. Mylott said he thinks the airport can apply for the grants even without having hired an engineer.
Guertin also said Gale employees have probably begun to prepare for the grant application. Any of their work would be transferred to a new firm, if one was hired, he said.
The two applicants besides Gale are Hoyle, Tanner & Associates Inc., of Manchester, N.H., and Stantec Consulting Services, of Portland, Maine.
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