Vision emerges for new MSO airport terminal

After working through a number of concepts for a new passenger terminal at Missoula International Airport, architects, planners and airport officials have settled on a plan that includes replacing the current building with a modern eight-gate facility. (Photo by Martin Kidston)

By Martin Kidston

An emerging design for a new passenger terminal at Missoula International Airport took a big step forward this week by receiving the conceptual approval of several members of the Missoula County Airport Authority.

Over the past month, a working group comprised of airport officials, A&E Architects and planners with Morrison-Maierle and Price Associates, have worked through four conceptual terminal designs that varied in size, layout and phasing options.

On Wednesday, the group settled on a preferred alternative that would modernize the terminal in both function and design. Plans for a new facility are funded entirely by federal grants and fees generated by airport revenues.

“This is what we think as a team is the correct direction,” Rhon Price of Price Associates said after the meeting.

With a budget of $45 million and a long list of needs, the airport has been meeting with both airlines and user groups to create a master plan to replace the city’s antiquated passenger terminal. The vision that emerged this week would see a new terminal built in phases on the footprint of the current facility.

The work would begin by relocating at least one ticket counter and moving security to the middle of the current building before the westernmost portion of terminal is demolished.

In its place, the first phase of a new terminal would be constructed to include a lobby and a double-loaded concourse extending at a southwest angle onto the jet ramp. The first phase of the project would include five gates.

“Once this phase is complete, we’d have a new lobby, ticketing, stairs and access going up to five new gates,” said Shaun Shea of Morrison-Maierle. “By phasing it the way we did, the impact to passengers is limited, and we’re not dealing with a whole lot of remodeling costs on the existing facility.”

Once the first phase of the project opens, the second phase would begin by razing the eastern portion of the current terminal, with the exception of baggage claim. The second half of the new terminal would replace the middle section and include a second concourse with three passenger gates.

The two concourses would hinge off a central location that opens to a large bay of rounded windows and a lounge. Both concourses, which include a combined eight gates and room for future expansion, would offer concessions.

Passenger screening would also move to the second floor.

“It’s all expandable for future needs,” said Price. “When I step out through screening, I see the mountains. There’s this big, curved wall with a view of the mountains and seating in a lounge. You’ve got that big living room window, and concessions are right there.”

While the team considered an option to expand upon the current facility, the cost of retrofiring the dated building proved more costly than a phased approach to new construction. As designed, planners said, passengers would gain a view down both concourses after passing through security.

At least five of the new gates would include a jet bridge.

“That gate option is very unique,” said Shea. “It’s not that big, double-loaded (concourse) that goes for 1,000 feet out onto the ramp. It’s short walks. It’s something unique to small, non-hub airports.”

Airport Director Cris Jensen said the preferred plan would also improve airport operations and efficiency. The design would be intuitive to passengers, provide more aircraft parking and simplify ground operations, he said.

The phasing plan also solves the challenge of building the new terminal on the footprint of the current facility while running a functioning airport.

Rhon Price of Price Associates goes over the preferred plan for a new eight-gate Missoula International Airport passenger terminal. (Photo by Martin Kidsdton)

“We’ve sat through this for the past two days and we’re pretty happy with the concept they came up with,” said Jensen. “The phasing was also going to be a big deal, but this works. Operationally, it simplifies everything.”

An increase in passengers and larger jets has rendered Missoula’s current terminal obsolete in terms of space, function and technology. It also has caused parking issues – something the new plan would seek to address.

As envisioned, the loop road serving the new terminal would enter the facility further west than it currently does. The employee lot would be relocated, giving way to additional long-term and short-term parking.

As the airport grows, the plan makes room for a parking deck connected to the new terminal via a bridge. However, airport officials said, the need for a parking deck may be years away.

“We have the option of going to an off-site economy lot and providing a shuttle for passengers,” said Jensen. “You see that pretty commonly at bigger airports. We wouldn’t have to immediately jump to a parking deck.”

Paul Stafford, a commissioner with the Missoula County Airport Authority, said he was pleased with the concept. Planners will present the vision and phasing plan to the airport’s board of directors at its next meeting.

“I’d like to leave a really nice legacy rather a headache for someone 15 years down the road,” Stafford said. “I don’t want to build a building below the rule of thumb. I’d rather build a building 10 or 20 percent over and smile when I walk in here 10 years from now.”

Contact reporter Martin Kidston at info@missoulacurrent.com