City commission approves airport expansion

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City commissioners unanimously approved a $17.3 million expansion to the Manhattan Regional Airport Tuesday. The Federal Aviation Administration recommended that the airport pursue a two-phase building plan, instead of the original four-phase plan.

Peter Van Kuren, airport director, presented the expansion plan to commissioners. The plan is contingent on federal grants worth approximately $13.3 million.

“We did hear from the FAA, and they have acknowledged in writing that the grant is being processed. We just haven’t received that grant at this time,” said Van Kuren.

The airport will have to reapply for FAA grants next year as well, after completing phase one of the expansion plan. Passenger facility fees will make up another $3 million, which will leave $1 million of city cost.

Commissioners approved the use of economic development funds for the expansion. The project is not expected to have any effect on property taxes. It was approved to be paid off in 10-20 years. The project will cost approximately $310 per square foot.

The Manhattan Chamber of Commerce stated their approval of the project and allocated the use of economic development funds to move it forward.

“There was quite a bit of interest in the project, but in the end only four bidders,” said Bernie Hayen, director of finance. The project was awarded to Mead and Hunt Architectural and Engineering Firm, out of Madison, Wis.

Due to short notice from FAA, the airport was forced to compile bids in a period of three and half weeks.

“Typically, we would’ve liked to have seen a longer bidding period where some contractors could have taken more time to look at the project in a little more depth,” Hayen said.

However, despite the short bidding period, Van Kuren said that the airport did use focus groups in order to determine which features will likely be put in, regardless of the company.

“Throughout the course of the summer we met several times with focus groups, and we had one public meeting where we talked about the design of the building,” Van Kuren said. The structure featuring a rolling roof was highly preferred by those involved in the groups and the meeting.

The airport will be expanding to account for a growth in enplanements. The new plan will expand the airport from 12,500 square feet to 42,000 square feet to accommodate a traffic peak of 300 people.

The FAA anticipates that Manhattan Regional will meet or exceed 300 people by the year 2030. The expansion will be able to accommodate two regional jets and a large charter aircraft at the same time. It will also feature two passenger boarding bridges with two defined gates.

“By 2011, we quickly saw that our facilities were no longer able to handle the passenger loads that we have,” said Van Kuren.

Due to the two-phase plan, the airport will remain completely functional during expansion. The new adjustments will also accommodate new requirements from the Transportation Security Administration to prevent backflow out of secure areas.

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