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The Paris City Council has taken a giant step forward toward bringing water and sewer infrastructure to Cox Field Airport, a move that Mayor AJ Hashmi believes will lead to frenzied industrial development.
By a 7-0 vote Monday night, the council selected the engineering and planning firm of Neel-Schaffer, Inc., which has three offices in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, to plan the extension of water and sewer lines 3.2 miles east along U.S. 271 and then Airport Road.
“We’re working at beginning around the first of 2014, we would have design complete by mid-to-late April, and complete construction between mid-October of 2014 to mid-March of 2015,” proposed Bruce Grantham, who would be Neel-Schaffer’s project manager for wastewater design.
City Engineer Shawn Napier estimated that it will cost the city about $5.5 million to extend water and sewer lines from the Morningside residential addition in southeast Paris to the airport.
The city will negotiate the cost of Neel-Schaffer’s engineering and planning, which Napier said could run somewhere between $500,000 and $850,000.
Extending infrastructure from Paris to the airport would be paid for out of the $45 million bond issue that Paris residents approved last May.
Billy Copeland, a pilot and chairman of the city’s Airport Advisory Board, told the PEDC two weeks ago that the airport itself is surrounded by proposed industrial development property, but that without infrastructure, interest is negligible.
Steve Gilbert, executive director of the Paris Economic Development Corporation, said extending water and sewer to the airport would trigger aggressive marketing of the airport to developers.
Initial targets for development at the airport would be companies to support the aviation industry — such as a paint shop, an avionics shop, an upholstery shop, and a mechanics shop.
PEDC board member Bruce Carr said Paris’ airport, with complete infrastructure, “would be the envy of communities throughout the region.”
The council spent two hours Monday night interviewing principals of Neel-Shaffer and three other companies that the city staff ranked highest among seven firms that responded to Requests For Qualifications from the city.
A committee consisting of the the city utilities director, inspector, city engineer and city manager ranked each firm on a scale from 1 to 5, and two other firms scored higher.
The top four — Teague Nall & Perkins, Huitt-Zollars, Neel-Schaffer, and Alan Plummer Associates — took turns Monday night giving presentations of 20 to 25 minutes each.
Several weeks ago, the council selected Aecom, Inc., as the engineer for replacing decades-old, deteriorated cast iron water pipes and clay sewer pipes under the city of Paris, mostly inside the loop.
One reason the council agreed upon Aecom over three other companies was Aecom’s coalition with two local companies — Hayter Engineering and Harrison Walker Harper, Inc.
Monday night, it was Huitt-Zollars that came to the council with Hayter Engineering and Chaney Surveying as local partners.
In the end, the council was more impressed with Neel-Schaffer, but pushed to have its cake and eat it, too.
“Do you think there is any need for local participation, if you do get the contract?” the mayor asked Grantham at the end of his presentation.
Not really, Grantham said.
“We feel very confident that we have the ability within our firms to get this project done. With the other projects that we did recently, we didn’t have a lot of local engineering and surveying companies,” he said.
But if it was a deal-breaker, the company might decide to share the work with local firms, he said.
“What are your thoughts about the importance of having a local company involved?” Grantham asked the mayor.
“I think it’s important. It’s always nice to have local involvement because of the knowledge of the local people, plus certainly we would like to have local dollars kept local. Obviously, I support local businesses, so for me to say it’s not a good idea would be a wrong thing because I like that idea,” Hashmi replied.
“If it were to be a difference maker for the council, we would bring local firms in,” Grantham said.It would not materially affect the cost to the city, he added.
Hashmi made the motion to hire Neel-Schaffer, getting a second from District 1 Councilman Aaron Jenkins, and as part of his motion the mayor said in the negotiations with the company, that the company be asked to have local involvement.
Two council members — District 2 Councilwoman Sue Lancaster and District 3 Councilman John Wright – will sit in negotiations with City Manager John Godwin.
Neel-Schaffer, Inc., is an engineering firm founded in Jackson, Miss., in 1983. Today, it is one of the largest privately held engineering firms in the South and Southeast, with about 400 employees working out of 38 offices in nine states.
The company merged two years ago with Cheatham & Associates of Arlington, whose vice president, Derek Cheatham, would be project manager for water design.
The company’s current clients include Dallas, Fort Worth, Arlington, Grand Prairie, Haltom City, Reno, Garland, Kennedale, Southlake, Dallas County, Rhome, Burleson, North Richland hills, Westlake, Red Oak, Benbrook, and Gainesville.
Grantham is the principal officer of Grantham & Associates of Garland, whom Neel-Schaffer invited to participate with them on the Paris project. He walked council members through various phases the project would go through.
“The first phase is analysis and planning, and we’ve had an affinity for projects for cities including water and wastewater projects to make a real difference in the outcome of the project,” Grantham said.
“An example would be, we were hired to do a $3 million lift station for the City of Rowlett,” Grantham said.
“We evaluated gravity alternatives and found one that was a quarter of the cost of the lift station that we’d been hired to design, and we reduced the fee on the project due to the reduction in the scope of the gravity line at the lift station,” Grantham said.
“I think this is where we see an opportunity to use what would be the creative side of analytical engineers to look at ways to maximize the value of the project for you and your financial resources on the project. The goal is to leave no stone unturned in that process,” he said.
“Once we’ve decided what it makes sense for you to build, both in the short term and long term, and where we put the lines, then we would go into the production phase of the project.”
Representatives of the four companies were asked to remain outside the council chambers while their competitors were making their pitch.
The first presentation, by Teague Nall & Perkins began shortly before 6:30 p.m. That was followed at 6:58 p.m. by Huitt-Zollars, at 7:21 p.m. by Neel-Schaffer, and at 7:49 p.m. by Alan Plummer Associates. The council was given an opportunity to ask questions at the end of each presentation.
Finally, from 8:10 p.m. to 8:27 p.m., the council began deliberating which firm to enter into negotiations with.
Napier and Godwin said they were confident any of the four firms would do a good job.
“I think you have to be careful with presentations,” Godwin said.
For example, the city manager said, one of the presenters was not a very good speaker, “but that doesn’t mean he’s not a good engineer.”
At the end, the mayor’s motion to employ Neel-Schaffer with the strong suggestion that it bring aboard local firms won unanimous approval from the council.
In November, when the council voted to extend infrastructure to the airport, District 5 Councilman Matt Frierson voted no. Monday night, he echoed his misgivings.
The mayor interrupted him to remind him, “Mr. Frierson, that part has been voted on. We cannot go back to that.”
“I’m aware it’s been voted on,” Frierson said. “My concern is, overall you’re committing about 15 percent of the $45 million bond issue that citizens of Paris voted for, and we really have no idea what our return on investment is, and that’s a fact.
“It’s not really a question of if we build it, they will come. We don’t really know that. I just want the people to be mindful of that. But that being said, I understand that the decision has been made, and the horse is out of the barn on that,” Frierson said.
After the meeting, Frierson said he is “very supportive” of economic development and said he agrees that the airport is a great resource.
“But I don’t think anyone could say that we have sufficient information to prove the need to have water and sewer there in the next 36 months,” Frierson said.
“Lord knows, after everything we’ve been through, I’d like to see Steve Gilbert’s job of industrial recruitment get easier. However, i think it’s in a sense selling the citizens a bill of goods. Because we both know that even the $45 million won’t cover the entire city, so now there’s less,” Frierson said.
By Charles Richards, eParisExtra