The Williamsport Regional Airport Authority is on an aggressive schedule to complete the construction of a new airport terminal building by May 2014.
On Wednesday, the authority reached an important benchmark in that schedule by selecting the project's architectural and engineering firm.
It also was revealed during the meeting that work on bringing a second commercial carrier to the airport is continuing and could result in good news.
A team led by Rettew Associates Inc., which is headquartered in Lancaster and maintains an office in Williamsport, will perform a needs assessment that will determine the location and size of the new terminal building. The firm agreed to do the work at a cost not to exceed $112,800.
The firm is teaming with AE Works, of Pittsburgh; Delta Airport Consultants Inc., of Richmond, Va.; and Mead & Hunt of Texas.
The assessment will include interviews with airport tenants to determine their space requirements, meetings with local business leaders and other users of the airport, a study of current and projected enplanements and future space needs of the airport, said Thomas Hart, airport director.
The firm also agreed to create a conceptual design of the building, Hart said.
Once the conceptual design is completed, a public meeting will be held to update local residents and business leaders on the progress of the project and the direction in which it is heading, Hart said.
Selecting the firm was not an easy job, said authority Chairman Mark Murawski.
"We went through an exhaustive process to determine who the engineer will be for the terminal building replacement project," Murawski said.
The authority received technical proposals from seven firms outlining their qualifications, scope of work and proposed schedule for completing the work.
"Each firm (had) subcontractors as part of a team," Murawski said. "No firm submitted proposals that were just from them."
From the original seven proposals, the authority chose a short list of five firms based on a ranking system. Those firms were interviewed at the airport last week.
"It was not an easy slam-dunk decision," Murawski said, adding: "(Rettew) is a very good firm. They are well qualified."
Federal regulations prevented the authority from seeking a price for the work along with the technical proposal. The price was negotiated after the proposal was accepted. If an acceptable price could not be reached, the second ranked firm could be offered the job, Murawski said.
The rule prevents contracts from being awarded based solely on a low bid, which too often influences who is awarded contracts, he said. That makes it less likely that an unqualified firm will be selected for any given project, he said.
Preliminary estimates set the cost of the new terminal at about $13 million. The project initially was supposed to include the construction of a new air traffic control tower, but that component has been removed from construction plans due to concerns it will delay completion of the project, Murawski said.
Construction should begin next June, he said.
The terminal building was erected in 1947 and is in need of major upgrades to its exterior and heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems that could costs millions of dollars, according to Murawski.
Even with the upgrades, the building would not meet the projected air travel needs of the region, he said. The building is too small and Murawski described its archaic baggage handling system as "Wilbur and Orville Wright kind of stuff."
Over the past several years, the airport has improved its runways, taxiways and safety areas. During a June news conference revealing the project, Hart said the building "was very unappealing" and needed to be replaced.
Regarding the prospect of bringing a second commercial airline to the airport, Hart said he is "confident there is going to be good news for the area in eight to 10 months."
Hart said airport staff and consultant Michael Mooney of Sixel Consulting Group is working to add a connection to Dulles International Airport in Washington D.C.
Dulles is a hub airport of United Airlines, though airport officials have not specifically identified that airline as a potential new carrier.
Mooney assisted the airport in receiving a $500,000 federal Small Community Air Service Development grant, which will be used to assure a new carrier it will not lose money coming to the Williamsport airport.
According to David Frey, airport marketing director, Mooney sought the grant for four airports, including the Williamsport Regional Airport, and was able to secure funding for all of them.
"He's four for four," Frey said of Mooney. "No other consultant in the country can say that."
The grant will be used along with $500,000 in local funding from the First Community Foundation, the Lycoming Foundation and the Lycoming County Visitors Bureau.
Frey said Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Zionsville, and Sen. Bob Casey, D-Scranton, were instrumental in the airport receiving the grant, which is through the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Attending the meeting was Ronald Bower of Bricklayers and Allied Craftsmen Union Local 5 of Williamsport. Bower told authority members the union was willing to work with the authority to provide input and assist in keeping terminal building construction costs down.