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CARLTON FLETCHER: Aviation board's actions 'plane' wrong

OPINION: Architect's extra efforts snubbed by Aviation Commission

Carlton Fletcher

Carlton Fletcher

Dirty deeds, done dirt-cheap.

AC/DC

Full disclosure: David Maschke is one of the two or three people in these parts who will admit to being a friend of mine. And when I approached Maschke about writing this column, he made it clear that he was not interested in discussing its content publicly.

But it’s a column that needed to be written.

Monday afternoon the Albany-Dougherty County Aviation Commission voted unanimously to award an architectural design contract for a food/beverage concessions space at the Southwest Georgia Regional Airport’s new terminal to SRJ Architects, a well-respected Albany firm. On the surface, the vote makes complete sense. SRJ’s bid on the design work was $10,000, while Maschke’s was $13,475 for a vending-only design and $17,485 for a tenant-operated facility.

But this vote was about more than money. It was an opportunity for the Aviation Commission to step up and do the right thing.

In that, the commission failed.

When the Columbia, S.C.-based LPA Group architectural firm needed a qualified local inspector to monitor the progress of the terminal project, it called on Maschke. The local architect responded in his usual fashion, providing detailed inspections that went well beyond the quick onceover that might have been expected. Maschke spent hours at the facility, poring over details with a fine-toothed comb to make sure specifications were followed.

“This is our community’s airport, and it’s important to me that this job is done right,” Maschke told me after one particularly long inspection session at the terminal. “My family flies in and out of this airport.”

When Maschke’s contract with LPA was up, he did not abandon the terminal project as many would have done. He worked on, with no promise of pay, making sure contractors and subcontractors did not leave the job unfinished in their haste to move on to their next assignment. Some of those tradesman are still at the terminal, even though it’s been in operation now for more than a month, whittling down a 900-item-plus “punch list” that Maschke found during his inspections.

Last month, Airport Director Yvette Aehle casually mentioned during an Aviation Commission meeting that she would have Maschke give a price for designing the concessions area, part of her plan to attract a permanent tenant. She told me later she assumed that, with what she called Maschke’s “hundreds of hours” of work at the airport during its upgrade and his overall knowledge of the facility, he would be an obvious choice to design the concessions space.

But board member Sanford Hillsman inexplicably demanded that Aehle get other bids (from architects or firms that he named, including one individual who had retired) before “giving the job to Maschke.” Aehle did as directed, and Sonya Spalinger — one of this community’s truly nice people — prepared SRJ’s bid, which was accepted by the commission Monday.

The awkward discussion that led to the board’s vote, which was conducted with Maschke and Spalinger in the room, did not include a mention of the hours of work — worth tens of thousands of dollars — Maschke put into the project with no contract and no expectation of pay. It was the kind of work that needed to be done, and in a world we wished we lived in, deserved to be rewarded.

The price of the concessions project is minimal, not something either architectural firm would ever get overly worked-up about. But this was about more than money. It was about right and wrong.

And it was about ego trumping decency.

Certain Aviation Commission members justified their actions Monday by dredging up the old “spending taxpayers’ money wisely” salt that comes up when they want a handy cover for their motives. Interestingly, that argument never surfaced when some of the pet “frills” that were part of the original terminal bid package surfaced.

Maschke’s remaining quiet on this matter, but anyone who has remotely followed the progress of this project knows that, at the very least, someone should have brought up the fact that he’d given so freely of his time and talents when the airport terminal was being built.

Sadly, no one said a word.

Email Metro Editor Carlton Fletcher at carlton.fletcher@albanyherald.com.