Thirty Meter Telescope backers seek contractors

Backers of the Thirty Meter Telescope are taking a small yet significant step as they begin seeking contractors to start clearing land on top of Mauna Kea.

The approximately $6 million contract would allow for grading the 4.85-acre site, paving a 0.61-mile road and installation of drainage and utility conduits.

It will mark the first phase of construction for what will be the largest telescope in the world.

Work is expected to begin in April and be substantially complete by Nov. 22, 2014. The observatory is expected to be finished in 2022.

An advertisement for prequalifications of bidders was issued this week. Contractors have until Oct. 4 to respond.

The TMT team still needs a sublease with the University of Hawaii to begin any work. Negotiations are expected to take place near the end of the year, said project manager Gary Sanders, via email.

Approval by the financial authorities of the participating agencies and a decision to proceed by the TMT board will also be needed, he said.

“The process is starting now to synchronize with the planned schedule, enabling a timely start to construction,” Sanders said. “It is also intended to enable potential bidders to become familiar with the project so that they may submit better proposals and for them to initiate discussions with potential subcontractors and labor unions.”

From 2014 through 2018, contracts will be issued for excavation, installing foundations, construction of the nonrotating structure of the telescope dome, and construction of support buildings, Sanders said.

The observatory is expected to cost $1.3 billion.

It would be located on a plateau 500 feet below the other observatories.

The observatory would be viewable from about 14 percent of the island, mainly from Honokaa through Kohala, a TMT spokeswoman said.

It is supported by the Canadian Universities for Research in Astronomy Institutional Council; California Institute of Technology; National Astronomical Observatory of Japan; Indian Institute of Astrophysics; National Astronomical Observatories of China; and the University of California.

Email Tom Callis