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Gainesville nears decision on airport management contract
3 companies are in the running
Construction continues along Palmour Drive behind Lee Gilmer Memorial Airport on Tuesday afternoon as a new landing system and approach lights are to be installed.

Within the next week, Gainesville officials will select a firm to direct the city with master planning and manage major projects at Lee Gilmer Memorial Airport.

Representatives from three consulting firms vying for the airport contract presented their qualifications Tuesday morning to the Airport Advisory Committee.

Major construction projects and planning at the city’s municipal airport are managed by an outside engineering firm. Regulations from the Federal Aviation Administration require the city to go through a selection process for consultants every five years to allow for open and free competition.

The three firms presenting Tuesday had been narrowed down from a pool of 12 applicants, according to Public Works Director David Dockery. The airport’s current consulting firm, W.K. Dickson, is among those on the short list.

Phil Eberly of W.K. Dickson told board members to remember the dedication the firm had to the city the last five years. W.K. Dickson has been involved in relocating taxiways at the airport, the installation of a new landing system and approach lights.

Eberly said he had counted 70 times he had met with city officials without charging for his time.

"When the city of Gainesville’s called, we’ve been here," Eberly said.

During his turn, the LPA Group’s Mike Reiter said the group was on the short list last time the city selected a project manager for the airport.

"We hope to make that final step this time," Reiter said.

The LPA Group has consulted "reliever" airports like DeKalb-Peachtree Airport and others in the metropolitan Atlanta area. Reiter said the firm also consults smaller airports in Habersham County and Valdosta.

He said that because the group works around the state, it has close and long-standing relationships with the Georgia Department of Transportation and the state’s liaison to the Federal Aviation Administration. Those relationships could help bring more grant funding to airport expansion projects in Gainesville, Reiter said.

Nader Bagheri of Robert and Co. told the board his firm receives 70 percent of its revenue from aviation engineering work and is well-versed in airport master planning.

"We cover every aspect of the aviation," Bagheri said.

Robert and Co. managed the construction of a taxiway at Lee Gilmer 20 years ago, and now manages projects at airports from Brooks County to Saudi Arabia, Bagheri said.

After the presentations, board members asked the city’s Public Works staff for a recommendation, including an opinion of the current company.

Dockery would not say how he would vote, because a representative from The Times was present, but he did comment on W.K. Dickson’s past performance.

"We’re pleased with the work that they’ve done right now," Dockery said.

Board member Fred Henry said he remembered when Robert and Co. worked for the airport in the mid-1980s, and had no complaints. But he suggested Lee Gilmer might need something different today.

"I’m not sure they’re going to be aggressive enough for what we need," Henry said.

Board member Alan Wayne said he believed all three firms were capable, but progress at the airport would depend heavily on the advisory committee’s work.

"It’s our responsibility to give them guidance on where we want to go, and it’s their responsibility to get us there," Wayne said.

Board member Gregory Hake said he was not thinking of the next five years, but the next 20. Hake said he would like to see a consulting firm that would help Lee Gilmer cross over from being simply a local airport to a "reliever" airport.

"I am encouraging myself to think big," Hake said. "In terms of where we need to go, I think we need to keep thinking big."

Over the next week, board members will vote via e-mail, Dockery said. The city should reach a decision next week.