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CO Journal Sues Airport Authority Over Records

Monday, March 16, 2020

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In the latest of a slew of updates on Denver International Airport’s now $770 million terminal renovation, the Denver Business Journal reported that it has filed a public-records lawsuit against DIA.

The lawsuit aims to reveal the members of the panel who recommended DIA CEO Kim Day should hire Great Hall Partners for $1.8 billion, a contract that has since been terminated following years of headache for the authority and city.

Project Saga

In November 2017, the DIA proposed the addition of 39 gates in an expansion project, up from the airport’s original proposal of 26. At the time, the project was estimated to cost $1.5 billion and would be a P3 headed by Ferrovial Airports. The overall deal was slated to include a $650 million terminal renovation, which would be overseen by Saunders Construction over the course of four years. (Cost estimates for the actual expansion at the time were not yet available, however.)

A couple months later in January 2018, two subsidiaries of Hochtief, a Germany-based construction company, were announced as the companies to oversee the expansion. The companies, Turner Construction and Flatiron Construction, would be building two new hubs for the airport, with the capacity for three more, as well as 16 new gates and installing additional pavement.

ra-photos / Getty Images

In the latest of a slew of updates on Denver International Airport’s now $770 million terminal renovation, the Denver Business Journal reported that it has filed a public-records lawsuit against DIA.

That summer, DIA would announce an official multi-year, multi-phase renovation timeline headed by Great Hall Partners with a budget of $650 million. The P3 also included 30 years of private oversight of expanded terminal concessions. A groundbreaking ceremony followed on July 12, 2018.

However, first delays struck in February 2019 when concrete on the main floor was found to be weaker than expected. According to officials, early testing of the concrete’s compressive strength was lower than what the project’s plan specified, so the area followed up with intensive testing. The DIA also noted that the testing needed to be complete prior to cranes going onto the main floor to erect steel.

At the time of the discovery, preliminary estimates stated that the project could be delayed by 209 workdays—roughly 10 months total.

In July, GHP reported that the renovation of Jeppesen Terminal wouldn’t be complete until at least 2024, three years behind its 2021 deadline. The companies (Ferrovial Airports, Saunders Construction and JLC Infrastructure) claimed the delay was due to various airport-requested design changes and structural issues found in old concrete initially used for the airport’s construction.

However, Channel 4 CBS Denver claimed that the project’s full completion could extend to 2025—with costs projected to increase by nearly 50%, or $311 million.

Contract Saga

A month later, not long after DIA announced that it would be ending its P3 relationship with GHP for terminal renovations, the contractors released documents showing that the project requires more than $1 billion to complete.

Up $650 million from the original budget, the documents also claimed that various delays have pushed the completion date back to February 2024 as well.

According to a DIA-hired independent consultant, inspections revealed that no safety issues were present in the concrete. However, additional testing was recommended for alkali-silica reaction, known to cause swells, cracks and even weaken concrete. Traces of the ASR were later found in the terminal.

In October, Day presented a revised renovation budget totaling $770 million, which included the original budget and a $120 million contingency.

According to Day, subcommittees and steering groups were working to process the closing of GHP’s contract and settling associated claims so that the contractor could successfully vacate the property by Nov. 12. Although a 34-year concession deal was included in GHP's contract, Day also confirmed that the DIA will run that component themselves after the renovation is complete.

It was also noted that although the new $770 million budget failed to include GHP's termination fees, a report from Moody’s Investors Service shows that the airport has roughly $900 million in liquidity to back up any settlement.

Later that month, the DIA announced that it had selected Hensel Phelps to serve as the preferred construction manager and general contractor for Phase 1 of the project previously held by GHP. Canada-based engineering company Stantec has been chosen as the preferred lead design firm for the entire project moving forward.

Andy445 / Getty Images

The lawsuit aims to reveal the members of the panel who recommended DIA CEO Kim Day should hire Great Hall Partners for $1.8 billion, a contract that has since been terminated following years of headache for the authority and city.

In addition, the DIA also selected Gilmore Construction, Sky Blue Builders and roughly another dozen subcontractors it hopes to take over from GHP to continue to aid in design, engineering, steel placement and electrical work. Those contracts totaled about $136 million.

Hensel Phelps was recently cleared to start construction, and will begin by finishing the project’s first phase, which includes finishing an expansion of upper-level balconies and construction of new airline check-in pods, bathrooms and escalators.

The end of the first phase is now slated to be complete in 2021. It was originally supposed to be finished last summer, but GHP only finished about 25% of the work.

The project’s full completion is now looking likely in 2024.

At the end of last month, Day did an about-face in a “mea culpa” that detailed all of the missteps in the original contract with Great Hall at closed-door meetings with Denver City Council.

The Lawsuit

According to reports, the lawsuit stems from a Jan. 16 request from the Business Journal under the Colorado Open Records Act, which sought the names of the independent panel members who gave the recommendation of Great Hall.

Several days after the request Day responded via the DIA’s director of government affairs, Rachel Marion, who withheld the names of the panel members citing two Colorado statutes.

According to the Journal, one state statute prevents the release of “the contents of real estate appraisals made for the state or a political subdivision thereof relative to the acquisition of property” and the other prevents the release of materials "so candid or personal that public disclosure is likely to stifle honest and frank discussion within the government, unless the privilege has been waived.”

In a statement made on Feb. 7, Day explained further that the decision to withhold the names was so that the disclosure wouldn’t “stifle frank and open exchange of ideas.”

In terms of the lawsuit, Journal Editor-in-Chief Rebecca Troyer said: "Open records are vital to our role of providing valuable information to our readers. We believe access to these public documents is important to telling the full story of the Great Hall."

The lawsuit was officially filed March 10. The Journal is being represented pro bono by Thomas Kelley, an attorney with Denver civil rights and employment law firm Killmer Lane & Newman.

The filing accuses DIA of violating the Colorado Public Records Act by not making the names of the members of the independent panel public.

   

Tagged categories: Airports; Contract awards; Contracts; Good Technical Practice; Laws and litigation; Lawsuits; NA; North America; Ongoing projects; Terminals

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