“It’s gonna be a good thing.”
That was the reaction of Wichita City Council member James Clendenin after getting his first look at the construction of the new city airport terminal since the slabs were being poured about a year ago.
The project is rapidly taking shape to the north and west of the current terminal and is slated to open in 2015. The $160 million terminal and its companion $40 million parking garage represent the biggest municipal building project in city history.
The building is in more or less a shell stage. The bulk of the insulated steel framework and concrete floors have been installed, along with the sweeping roof and some of the skylights.
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Workers will soon begin to install the walls of heavy-duty glass that will enclose an interior space of 273,000 square feet. Although that’s only slightly larger than the 265,000 square feet in the old terminal, there’s a lot less wasted space without the long interior corridors between the ticketing area and the aircraft gates, said project engineer Pat McCollom.
The centerpiece of the project is the “Great Hall,” a 60-by-660-foot terrazzo-floored open area just inside the main entrance. The towering ceiling of the hall will be highlighted with a sweeping wire-and-glass sculpture, McCollom said.
“I’m loving it. I absolutely love it,” said council member Lavonta Williams. “The way it’s built and the openness of it just gives it so much more of a presence.”
The terminal was designed to meet both operational and aesthetic goals laid down by the city early in the planning process. Probably the biggest consideration is to have more and better space for security screening than the arrangement the airport cobbled together when standards changed after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
But council members also have always seen having an architecturally welcoming airport as a key first-impression doorstep for the city.
While the construction teams have barely started on the internal work, Clendenin said he’s very pleased with what he saw on the tour.
“The quality out here is second to none as far as the workmanship,” he said.
He also said he’s pleased with the pace of the work.
“A lot’s happened out here in a short period of time,” he said. And with the rainy summer Wichita’s experienced this year, “for them to be on schedule still is an amazing feat.”
Airport Director Victor White said the terminal building itself is on schedule, while the garage is slightly behind because the rains turned the site into a “mud pit” and delayed construction of the foundation.
However, he said, the garage was originally scheduled for completion slightly before the new terminal. Even with the weather delay, the two facilities should be able to open at the same time.
The new terminal will have the same number of gates, 12, as the old one does, White said. Currently, only nine are operational and seven are actually in use.
The new jetways will be able to serve planes ranging from regional commuter jets to mid-size to large jets such as the Boeing 767. That will put an end to passengers having to walk across the outdoor tarmac to get to the smaller jets.
The project funding comes from several sources. The city expects about $50 million to $60 million in Federal Aviation Administration grants and another $7 million from the Transportation Safety Administration, White said. The rest will come from airport revenues including airline gate and counter space rents, passenger fees, and rental car, parking and concession income.
As the new terminal gets closer to completion, both concourses and the western half of the existing terminal will be torn down. Part of the building will be retained for storage space and the existing traffic-control tower will remain in service indefinitely.