Concourse behind schedule; Overruns estimated at up to $10 million

Posted: Monday, January 22, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The new $81 million Concourse ''C'' at Ted Stevens Anchorage international airport is running as much as $10 million over budget. That comes because of rising construction costs and because problems with design have delayed its opening by at least a year.

Those costs stem from the Anchorage Building Department's refusal to issue permits to finish the concourse's foundation and build the steel shell.

Consultants claim the 457,000-square-foot concourse would be vulnerable to earthquakes.

Adding 90,000 square feet to the concourse's original layout -- along with rising construction costs -- has caused the price to jump from $65.3 million in 1999 to $81 million today. That doesn't include the higher costs stemming from design problems.

Space is being added for concessions, airlines and the public, but state transportation officials say they're looking at whether to scrap other parts of the concourse to offset the escalating price. That could mean not building a 300-foot-long moving walkway to guide passengers and their bags through the building. A tour-group baggage facility also might be eliminated for the time being along with one of the nine jet gates.

Concourse C is the jewel of a $230 million airport makeover. The facility will nearly double the size of the domestic terminal when it's finished.

Two ironies taint the new concourse.

First, the state Department of Transportation and Public Facilities razed the old Concourse C a year ago in part because the structure was vulnerable to earthquakes -- the same reason the city won't permit the new building.

Second, state efforts to put the project on a fast track for construction contributed to the delays being experienced now.

The project originally was slated to be completed by April 2002. Now it won't be done before spring 2003.

For almost a year, Concourse C has been plagued with oversights and mistakes made in its structural design, essentially the blueprint for the building's steel frame and foundation.

Those problems have spawned a world of tension among people involved in the project as the Transportation Department prepares to file an insurance claim to be reimbursed for the $5 million to $10 million in overruns.

Memos between the key players hint at the frustration over the city's refusal to issue construction permits.

In a letter last October, state project director Donn Ketner reminded the city, ''Every day of delay to the final completion of the new Concourse C means a loss in airport revenue of approximately $30,000.''

Ron Wilde, the city engineer charged with reviewing the structural design of Concourse C, said the delays stem from major oversights made by Seattle-based Coffman Engineers, the firm hired by the state to structurally design the building.

''We've found some significant mistakes,'' he said.

Coffman's president, David Coffman, did not return phone calls to the Anchorage Daily News.

Since Coffman first sought building permits last February, the city has required the firm to revise the design five times to meet seismic codes.

Before applying for permits, the Transportation Department took out a $10 million insurance policy to cover potential mistakes and delays in the structural design. But it won't know for months, perhaps more than a year, whether it will be reimbursed, said Dave Eberle, head of the agency's central region, which includes Anchorage.

Another source of revenue that could offset rising construction costs and expanding Concourse C's layout is to use up to $18 million of investment earnings on bond proceeds.

The Transportation Department sold $204 million in bonds two years ago to fund the majority of the airport redevelopment and has invested some of the money until it needs the cash.

The source of the funding to pay for the much more expensive concourse will be dealt with later.

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