A look inside Wichita’s new airport terminal

A worker mixes flooring aggregate as construction continues on the Wichita Mid-Continent Airport terminal. (Nov. 6, 2014)
A worker mixes flooring aggregate as construction continues on the Wichita Mid-Continent Airport terminal. (Nov. 6, 2014) The Wichita Eagle

The new terminal at Wichita Mid-Continent Airport – to be called the Dwight D. Eisenhower National Airport once the terminal opens – is taking shape for the millions of passengers who use the airport each year.

It’s on track for a March or April opening.

For months, visitors driving to the airport have been watching the two-story state-of-the-art terminal and four-level parking garage rise from the ground.

Inside, it’s looking more and more like the terminal it will become.

It’s a visual and sensory experience.

Smells of cut metal, wood and epoxy fill the air as busy workers pour terrazzo flooring, cut metal stripping, wire speakers for the public announcement system, work on restrooms and perform a host of other jobs.

“It’s the smell of progress,” Pat McCollom, program manager for the terminal building, said during a recent tour.

The construction is exciting, he said.

“This is the fun part of it,” McCollom said. With the progress, “there’s a lot to show.”

The interior is awash in natural lighting brought in by the wall of glass and skylights.

On the first floor opposite the front glass wall is what’s dubbed the “Great Wall” – an expansive 40-foot wall that runs along the passenger ticketing and baggage claim areas.

On tours, “most people have said that room is just an incredible experience to walk into,” said Victor White, Wichita Airport Authority director of airports. “It’s high ceilings; it’s light; it’s bright. There’s lots of glass. There’s lots of skylights. The terrazzo floor design is striking.”

There are so many positive features, White said.

“It’s not just the fact that the building is going to be attractive and modern,” he said. “The concessions will be in the right location to serve the passengers in the gate areas. … The 12 jetways will all be glass. That’s going to be a unique experience for Wichita. There’s just not anywhere in the country on that scale. That’s going to be a very memorable experience for passengers as they get on and off the airplane.”

The parking garage will also be welcome, White said. It’s one thing that many people had requested over the years.

“That was never part of the original project,” White said. “That’s going to be a huge improvement in customer service because there will be covered parking for the first time at the airport.”

The rental cars will be in covered parking as well.

Together, it’s a $200 million project, including $160 million for the terminal and $40 million for the parking garage.

The costs are being paid by the airport and its customers, and not by taxpayers, White said.

“If you don’t use the airport, you’re not paying for this terminal,” he said.

On a recent day inside the new terminal, workers were mixing the concrete-like mixture for the gray terrazzo floors, pouring and leveling it, letting it dry and harden, and then polishing it to a sheen.

Others were carefully placing thin aluminum stripping on the floor to add an intricate design imbedded in the terrazzo to capture the feeling of an airplane’s contrails.

It’s a part of the terminal’s aviation theme, with its curvilinear roof and other features that evoke the motion of flight and the city’s deep aviation history.

The imbedded thin metal stripping in the floor will subtly guide customers to the ticket counters on the right of the entrance or the baggage claim area on the left.

“People inherently follow lines,” McCollom said. “It’s designed to get people to walk to the next area.”

The tall ceilings have been painted and the elevator, stairs, escalator and heating and cooling installed.

The airlines will add ticket counters, signage and monitors. Self-serve ticketing kiosks will be installed in front of the counters.

Three baggage claim areas, baggage service offices and an Aviator’s Cafe with bar service and retail shops will also be located on the first floor.

Behind the scenes, workers are adding a massive inline baggage system to take outbound bags through Transportation Safety Administration screening before the bags are loaded onto the airplanes. It’s an automated process not currently in place inside the existing terminal. An alarm will sound if a bag requires further inspection.

Near the baggage system outside of public view is the place where the goods and supplies will come in. A freight elevator has been installed.

It’s also the place where a large mechanical room holds the heating and cooling systems, and hot and cold water distribution.

Upstairs, a mezzanine area will give visitors a place to greet passengers when they arrive and feature tall panels depicting Wichita’s aviation history.

On the second floor, passengers will move through a large security area – one about twice the size of the current security – and go on to their gates.

The upstairs will include three retail stores, including two CNBC stores, a Grab & Fly food and wine bar, a Dunkin’ Donuts, and a Chik fil A, along with the Rivery City Brewing Co. and an Air Capital Bar overlooking the airfield.

Manufacturing will begin soon on the passenger boarding bridges, which will be glass-sided.

Moving forward, the biggest challenge will be to work with all “stakeholders,” McCollom said – including the concessionaires, retailers, advertisers, airlines and the TSA – who will operate or have a stake in its operations.

They must design and build out their areas, buy supplies and goods, add computer systems and train employees, McCollom said.

“We have so many outside entities that need to plug themselves in to where we are,” he said. “That’s the big push between now and spring.”

There’s a lot to accomplish before the opening.

“We have list upon list,” McCollom said.

Finishes on the walls and flooring must be completed, sidewalks and landscaping put in, the baggage handling system completed, the electrical and computer system in the building tested and approved, a glass display case separating security from the concourse installed, and the toilets, sinks, millwork, ticket counters, drinking fountains and a host of other items brought in and installed.

Furniture, trash receptacles and other items will soon be ordered.

“It’s a lot of finishing touches that still need to be put in,” McCollom said. They’re taking it a step at a time.

One of the final steps will be the installation of history pieces that tell the stories of Wichita as the Air Capital of the World, which will appear on large panels, and public art pieces.

Ed Carpenter, a Portland, Ore., artist, is creating an art piece to span more than the length of a football field through the terminal.

The 330-foot-long piece will arch over the airport’s mezzanine from ticketing to baggage claim and create the feeling of a wing and the magic of flight, the artist has said.

It will be made from dichroic safety glass, stainless steel cables and turnbuckles and cellular polycarbonate. It will change colors in different lights.

Once the terminal opens, the existing terminal will be torn down – except for the basement.

That’s where the storm shelter will remain and where the airport’s maintenance shop, offices and electronics control center for the building management system are located.

It would cost a lot to tear it all down and replace it in the new building, White said.

“All the structure sticking up above ground eventually will be gone,” White said.

The structure that’s left will stick up a couple of feet and have a roof on top. It may have landscaping on top of that.

“It will be behind the fence, so the public can’t walk out there,” White said.

Once the existing terminal is demolished, the ramp and apron there will be reconstructed.

Reach Molly McMillin at 316-269-6708 or mmcmillin@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @mmcmillin.

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