Airport sets timeline for terminal plans

By November, Missoula International Airport officials will have developed a plan to redevelop and expand, or replace the existing passenger terminal. (Photo by Martin Kidston)

By Martin Kidston

With a budget of roughly $45 million and a long list of needs, the Missoula International Airport will begin meeting with airport tenants, airlines and other user groups this month as it embarks on a quest to redevelop its antiquated passenger terminal.

Last month, the airport’s board of directors approved a contract with Morrison-Maierle and A&E Architects to begin planning and researching future terminal layouts.

By the end of November, the airport expects the process to result in an update to the Airport Master Plan – one that will include a design and inform the redevelopment process moving forward.

“That document will be focused on what the terminal project looks like, whether it’s a remodel and expansion, or knocking it down and starting over with a new facility,” said Cris Jensen, airport director. “We’ll get into detailed design.”

The airport last updated its Terminal Area Master Plan in 2013. The plan made three projections on future passenger growth, and the airport has surpassed them all.

Last year, 351,000 people boarded a plane at the airport, an increase of 5 percent over 2014. The airport topped the 300,000 mark for the first time in 2012 and is on course this year to set a new record.

Jensen said the airport has scheduled several work sessions and board presentations this month to move the process forward.

“Typically, they’re each with different user groups or terminal tenants like rental cars, gift shops, restaurant services and the airlines that are flying here,” Jensen said. “As we look forward, it helps figure out what their needs are in a future terminal and what kind of technology they might be interested in.”

Over the past month, airport officials have toured other airports to get a better idea of what’s possible on a $45 million budget. The tours have included three airports in Oregon, two in Washington and one in Minnesota.

The goal, Jensen said, is to create a modern facility that meets a variety of needs. The current terminal represents a patchwork of projects dating back to 1958 and followed by a dozen expansions, leaving a facility that is both inefficient and outdated.

“We want concession space to be better located for the traveling public, and more amenities,” Jensen said. “We talk about the terminal being intuitive so it doesn’t require a road map and a lot of signs. We want an efficient building, so we’re talking about being as green as possible. It’s the right thing to do, and it’s more efficient to operate.”

Technology will also be incorporated into a new project, Jensen said. The plan, the budget and other findings will help determine whether the projects requires a new terminal or another expansion of the existing facility.

Both present benefits and challenges, Jensen said. Current needs also call for eight gates with an option to expand at a future time as passenger growth and air service continue to increase.

“This effort will lead us to that decision,” Jensen said. “My preference would be something that’s easily expandable, intuitive for the public to use and meets all of our needs. The current facility doesn’t do those types of things. The cleaner option is new construction, but we need to be open that it may be the best solution to expand.”

Jensen said the project will be paid for though a number of sources, including federal funding and entitlement money based upon the airport’s current activity. The airport also has discretionary funds and passenger facility charges it may use.

“All that added up, we’re looking at about $45 million,” Jensen said. “That’s what our current budget would support. We want the project to be driven by the budge. If one option is outside that budget, it will help guide us to another option.”

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