Missoula airport authority gets first look at proposed new passenger terminal

By Martin Kidston

The team contracted to design a new passenger terminal at Missoula International Airport unveiled the project’s preferred alternative to the Missoula County Airport Authority on Tuesday.

At the group’s monthly meeting, airport director Cris Jensen also announced a marked increase in July passenger counts when compared to the same time last year, further pressing the need for a larger, more efficient facility.

“Total enplanements year-to-date are up 7 percent compared to last year,” Jensen said. “The current trend will put us somewhere in the neighborhood of 380,000 enplanements for this calendar year.”

Last year, the airport set an all-time record for passenger enplanements at 350,000. The year before it was 335,000. The airport hit the 300,000 mark for the first time in 2012.

The growth in passengers has pushed the Missoula County Airport Authority to contract Morrison-Maierle and A&E Architects to design a new passenger terminal. The preferred alternative, which was unveiled earlier this month, would see a new facility built in phases over the course of 30 months.

In July, those behind the project interviewed airport tenants, including the U.S. Transportation Security Administration, airlines and car-rental agencies to pique their vision for a new facility. They also contracted the national consulting firm Price Associates to help with the process.

As proposed, the preferred terminal design will include two concourses with eight passenger gates. The two wings would converge on a common area fronted by a panel of large windows. The favored option would see the existing terminal come down in phases.

Of all the options reviewed, the preferred alternative offers the most advantages, the design team said.

“It doesn’t require any remodeling costs, so when we’re doing design, there’s not a high contingency level going into it with the unknowns,” said Chris Martenson with A&E Architects. “There’s a lot of things we don’t have to think through from a design standpoint. All the good money is being put to the right design reasons to build functionality.”

The project’s budget is tentatively set at $45 million, funded entirely by fees and revenues generated at the airport. Still, several members of the Missoula County Airport Authority are urging the team to ensure the design comes in on budget.

Jensen said the financial picture is better now than it was in 2013 when the airport last updated its Terminal Area Master Plan. Enplanements have increased substantially over prior projections, he said, and federal funding available for the project has increased.

“We have more discretionary (funding) now that what we originally anticipated,” Jensen said. “We calculated interest rates at 6 percent in that (2013) plan, and we think they’re considerably better than that now. The scenario is better than the picture painted back then, but we want a realistic view of it.”

To get that realistic view, the working group will now detail the size of the new terminal and how to allocate the space in effort to pin down actual costs. It also plans to meet with the Federal Aviation Administration and other groups as it begins the final design.

“We’re trying to hone in on what the real cost is,” said Shaun Shae of Morrison-Maierle. “It’s not so much what the airport can afford and let’s build it to that. It’s what’s a feasible number you can afford and still get all the function and programming you have.”

Martenson said the favored design simplifies the overall project, including the phasing process. Portions of the existing terminal would remain open to passengers as the first concourse is constructed.

The design process is expected to begin as early as this year and last around 18 months, Martenson said. Once construction begins, it will likely take up to 30 months to complete.

“Because it’s simplified phasing, I don’t think it’s going to stretch out three or four years,” he said. “The structure is getting fairly simple. It’s not going to be a design-winning piece of architecture. It’s going to be functional for its use and efficiency.”