Editorial: Wanted – A Sunport renovation on time and under budget

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For a public amenity that’s supposed to be the state’s welcome mat for out-of-state visitors, the Albuquerque International Sunport construction projects suffer from a serious lack of oversight.

The facility shows well. Officials have no problem sinking millions into it to keep it welcoming — they just seem unable to do it in a fiscally responsible manner.

A recent terminal improvement project, which overhauled the ticketing area, baggage claim and outdoor arrivals sidewalk, wrapped up in 2020 after 26 contract change orders and a $32.9 million price tag — $3.1 million more than the contracted price. It took about 3 1/2 years instead of the originally planned 15 months.

Now the city is about to embark on another major Sunport renovation — to transform the security checkpoint and create a new food court at an estimated cost of $90 million. Does anyone believe it will be on time and under budget? In a recent audit of the previous terminal improvement project auditors found the Aviation Department didn’t establish an appropriate framework to monitor and control costs.

Aviation paid primary contractor Flintco $189,779 more than obligated, the city’s Office of Internal Audit determined. The department also never pursued $753,000 in liquidated damages from Flintco for project delays.

For those who remember the 1999 Sunport observation deck drama under Mayor Martin Chávez — $1 million over budget, built by a contractor who didn’t have to bid and the focus of a grand jury investigation — the latest audit raises the question of when will the city exit a revolving door of mismanagement of airport construction projects?

Auditors made several recommendations, and an Aviation spokesman said the department will heed them, including better project control provisions and assessing whether it can try to get any of that $942,779 from Flintco. The company maintains it fulfilled obligations, Aviation accepted its work and there are no grounds to seek money from the company.

The airport spokesman said the Aviation Department will also use a different type of contract, CMAR or construction manager at risk, on its new project. It’s used “to enable effective management of project costs, improved communication, and project management.”

The public certainly doesn’t need a third strike on Sunport construction. The city should do whatever it takes to ensure every dollar of the new project, estimated at nearly three times what the earlier project cost — is well spent.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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