It’s the beginning of the end for abandoned Eisenhower Airport terminal

With a faux funeral and a giant iron claw, Wichita’s Eisenhower Airport began the final phase of terminating the old terminal.

With heavy demolition equipment pulling pieces off the building behind him, Assistant Airport Director Brad Christopher read a “eulogy” paying tribute to the 65-year-old “dedicated servant to the citizens of Wichita.”

“It was born into the era of radial engine airliners, and passed away in the jet age,” he said. “The terminal was born to the City of Wichita in 1954 as the Wichita Municipal Airport Terminal. It passed away in June of 2015 as the Wichita Mid-Continent Airport Terminal.”

The aging terminal became surplus space with the completion of a new $160 million terminal next door. With the new terminal came a new name for the airport: Wichita Dwight D. Eisenhower National Airport, honoring the former president and World War II general who grew up in Abilene, Kan.

The gates of the old terminal and the long concourses leading out to them were torn down shortly after the new terminal was opened.

But the main building remained as a demolition challenge because the airport data center and several maintenance departments were still situated in the basement. The original plan called for the piece-by-piece removal of the building and construction of a ground-level roof over the basement.

But the plan evolved and the data center was moved to another airport building. The east end of the old terminal, about 20 percent of the building, will be left standing. It will continue to house maintenance shops and vehicle storage in the basement, with airport operations office space on the upper floor where the ticketing counters used to be, Christopher said.

The remnant of the old terminal will get a new facade to match the new terminal. “Our goal is when people drive by, they won’t even notice,” Christopher said.

The projected cost of the project is $8.8 million, to be funded from airport revenue. It’s expected to take six months to tear down the building, backfill the hole underneath it and pave it over.

Demolition has been delayed a couple times because of weather conditions.

Wind is a particular concern because there’s a layer of Styrofoam in the roof that could be a hazard to navigation if chunks of it blow onto the airfield.

On Monday, workers were dousing the debris with fire hoses and running a sweeping machine to keep the foam from blowing around.

Bryan Frye attended the demolition ceremony representing the City Council, which also acts as the Airport Authority.

He acknowledged “this building served us well for 65 years.”

But, he added “I can’t imagine anyone would want to go back to it from a travel perspective, so it’s time for it to go.”

Noting that Mayor Jeff Longwell had gotten to drive a dump truck at the groundbreaking for the city’s new baseball stadium, Frye said he wanted to operate the demolition claw machine.

“What guy doesn’t love heavy machinery and destruction?” he said.

His request was politely declined.

Senior Journalist Dion Lefler has been providing award-winning coverage of local government, politics and business in Wichita for 20 years. Dion hails from Los Angeles, where he worked for the LA Daily News, the Pasadena Star-News and other papers. He’s a father of twins, director of lay servant ministries in the United Methodist Church and plays second base for the Old Cowtown vintage baseball team.