Paulding’s airport director believes he can bring a hangar into compliance with fire codes at least six months sooner using a contract developed by the state.
He also said his request for $500,000 from the Paulding County Board of Commissioners to add a fire suppression wall in the airport’s main hangar will be repaid in property taxes in the first year.
But commissioners apparently wanted more time when they voted to delay action on airport director Terry Tibbitts’ request to fund a fire suppression system in the four-year-old building at Paulding Northwest Atlanta Airport until June 28.
Commissioner Brian Stover said he wanted to see what prices other bids would bring on the wall’s construction in addition to what airport officials received.
“I understand that we must build the wall to stay in compliance but (that) doesn’t constitute a reason not to explore all options and bid processes,” Stover said.
Commissioner Ron Davis said he “felt like we were being rushed to make a decision with little notice” before the May 14 meeting.
“If the Airport Authority expected to be asking us to fund this, we should have been brought into the process many months ago,” Davis said.
Tibbitts said airport officials were “good” with commissioners’ requested delay.
“We are working with the BOC to make sure they are comfortable with the request,” he said.
LACK OF FUNDING
Tibbitts said the airport has not had the funding available to fully fund a fire suppression system.
Legal fees have used much of its recent budgets to fight lawsuits surrounding a years-long effort to convert the airport to a commercial facility allowing passenger airline service.
As a result, it has been unable to lease the 35,000-square-foot hangar for its intended use for much of the building’s four-year life.
“We are technically out of compliance today,” Tibbitts told county commissioners May 14.
The building originally was planned to include a wall to bring it into compliance but the airport authority never built it because it lacked the money, he said.
Tibbitts said he was asking the board of commissioners to approve funding because the county government is a co-sponsor of federal grants to the airport and the funding will make a potentially revenue-generating part of the airport functional.
“As co-sponsor of the airport, we’re asking them to participate financially and pay for this upgrade,” Tibbitts told the Paulding County Airport Authority after the commission vote.
Fully-fueled aircraft cannot be stored in the space without the suppression system, Tibbitts said.
He said airport officials work to make sure aircraft are empty of fuel when in the hangar but cannot guarantee it if owners store their planes after hours, he said.
The airport recently was able to secure a multi-million-dollar corporate jet’s rental of hangar space, Tibbitts said. It will stop charging rent if the jet’s owner pays full ad valorem tax on the jet, estimated at $500,000 per year, he said.
The tax revenue goes to the county General Fund, not the airport, he added.
However, he said “there is no impact to any existing contracts” from the commission’s delay. He added he has a waiting list of aircraft owners wanting space at the airport.
The requested funding would be used to build a wall to divide the 25,000-square-foot hangar into two 12,000-square-foot spaces and make the building compliant with fire protection standards, Tibbitts said.
He said the wall will be 50 feet high and built atop a concrete containment dam which “has to be certified to contain jet fuel spills.”
The wall will cover a 156-foot by 28-foot clear span opening now covered by a steel hangar door, he said.
“It’s more than sheet rock and studs,” Tibbitts said. “This is not just any wall.”
“We have to do a modification to the door to allow the wall to penetrate through that door and go to the extreme limits of the building,” he said. “Just the modification to the door is going to be close to $100,000.”
CONTRACT A KEY
Tibbitts said airport officials want to award a contract and use a standard contract document developed by the Georgia Department of Administrative Services which is “fully compliant with all state of Georgia rules and regulations” and will save the county money, he said.
Other local government agencies already use it on specialized items like fire engines and police vehicles. The document already has met all legal requirements for competitive bidding in Georgia, he said.
“This is a competitively awarded program but it is not competitively awarded to this task,” he said. “But this task is fully compliant with all state requirements.”
The document includes thousands of pages of technical specifications for a variety of projects and is used by local governments statewide for specialty items like fire engines, he said.
He said development of construction specifications as part of a bid package typically uses a large percentage of any grant the airport receives.
“It allows you to go to (vendors) with unique requirements and not have to develop a full specification for your construction,” Tibbitts said.
“This contract allows us to capture all of the trades, all of the specs, all of the quality control for this wall in a fully contained document so that we can award it in a cost-effective way for the county. We feel it would cost us far more to develop a unique specification for what we’re doing here than what you might possibly save by going out on what you would consider an open competition, and for this one job.”
Airport authority members recently agreed to contact commissioners to give them information they need to consider the funding request before June 28.
Tibbitts told the airport authority that using a vendor outside the state construction contract “that we can legally use” would require an additional six months just to develop design specifications for the wall.
Authority member Dan Nolan said the airport has “a pretty significant exposure with an airplane sitting in a hangar” without the needed fire safety system.
“There may be somebody out there who can do the work slightly cheaper, but when you couple that with the additional design element that we’re going to have to spend money on, I don’t know if we’re not right back where we were,” Nolan said.
The request is similar to what commissioners recently approved spending from its reserves fund for extension of sewer lines to an area around a shopping center to encourage commercial development in south Paulding.
Davis said commissioners had a number of concerns about Tibbitts’ request — ranging from a process that avoided the standard government bidding procedure to the county government providing money for a single project for a quasi-independent agency the county already is funding.
“There were some questions that we felt had not been answered, and we wanted to make sure we had all the information about the situation before voting to spend half a million tax dollars on it,” Davis said.
“Taking a few weeks to allow all the board members to ask questions will help alleviate the concern about being rushed to a decision,” he said.
Davis said he had concerns about the board funding the fire system when an intergovernmental agreement already required the county government to give the airport authority a specific, annual amount for its operation.
The 2014 agreement moved responsibility for the airport’s operation from the county government to the county airport authority and made the airport authority a quasi-independent agency. It also required the county to fund the airport a total of $3 million over 10 years. The payments began in 2015 and decrease annually, with the 2020 amount scheduled to be $275,000.
However, county officials said the money would be outside the agreement and be a one-time expenditure from reserves.
Davis said he believed “we either need to honor” the intergovernmental agreement and “fund them the way that agreement dictates,” or end the agreement and make the airport a county government department “and handle their capital expenditure requests like we do for all the other departments.”
Stover said he supported Tibbitts and the airport’s development as a general aviation airport and the hangar “is part of it.” However, he said he did not have “all my answers in front of me that I will need to make a complete decision.”
“Moving forward, this is not the only project that will need to be done out there,” said Stover, who is the commission’s chairman pro-tem. “I just want to be able to do the right thing to be able to feel good about the next project.”