Airport approves terminal plan, embarks on design

Ron Price of Price Associates, right, explains the newly approved vision for a new passenger terminal at Missoula International Airport during Tuesday’s meeting with the Missoula County Airport Authority. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

By Martin Kidston

The Missoula County Airport Authority approved an update to the Terminal Area Master Plan on Tuesday, clearing the way for engineers to design a modern facility that’s slated for construction in 2018.

As envisioned, the plan includes a terminal offering eight gates designed to accommodate larger jets and more passengers. Security would expand from three lanes to four, and the baggage claim area would nearly triple in size.

While the budget has yet to be finalized, the project would be entirely funded through airport reserves and federal grants. Construction would likely start in June of 2018, with the first phase opening to passengers in 2020.

The last phase would be completed in 2021.

“What sold us on this concept is that it’s a really simpler project to manage,” said Cris Jensen, the airport’s director. “While we’re doing all this, we’re still trying to operate as an airport. We think this is a much simpler, better and a more economical approach.”

The project will unfold in phases over several years, starting with demolition of the airport’s most western wing. The first portion of the new terminal will be built in its place while the existing terminal remains operational.

Once that first segment opens with four new passenger gates, airport operations will move in, including security and ticketing. The second phase of the project will then begin by razing the middle section of the current terminal.

That second phase of construction includes concessions, three additional passenger gates and baggage claim. The existing baggage claim will remain in use until all phases of the project are complete.

“The existing building right now is about 130,000 square feet, and the building we’re proposing here is about 175,000 square feet,” said Ron Price of Price Associates. “I think it’s going to wind up being a great floor plan.”

The Airport Authority got its first look at the new vision in August. It includes two concourses with eight passenger gates. The two wings would converge at an atrium fronted by a panel of large windows.

With Tuesday’s approval, team members with Morrison-Maierle and A&E Architects will begin to design the new facility. With the rate of passenger growth in Missoula, the project is designed for future expansion.

“This gives you an eight-gate facility,” said Chris Martison with A&E. “Possibly in 2026, along with where Bozeman is going, we’ll see the first expansion coming off (the east) with the addition of three more gates.”

Growth at the airport has accelerated faster than airport officials envisioned, and it’s showing no signs of slowing down. The airport has set new passenger records in each of past few years, and it’s up an additional 9.9 percent this year.

In comparison, Bozeman is up 8.9 percent while Billings saw an increase of just 0.8 percent, according to airport officials.

To accommodate that growth now and into the future, those behind the vision for the new Missoula terminal believe it offers a better use of space. Baggage claim would grow from 190 linear feet of collection frontage to 315 feet, with nearly triple the square footage.

Other areas would also expand, including concessions and passenger holding areas.airport2

“With the hold rooms right now, you have 7,260 square feet of space on level one and level two,” said Price. “We’re proposing 18,000 square feet, plus 3,400 square feet of atrium space. It’s a whole lot more gate space than we have.”

The airport will advertise for general contractors in February, with schematic design work starting in January. Contractor selection and preconstruction work will also take place next year, with groundbreaking set for June 2018.

Jensen said the design will remain a work in progress.

“We’ll design a project that’s driven by budget, not a budget that’s driven by project,” he said. “We’ll come with a number we think is comfortable. It’s what the design team is going to have to live with.”

Contact reporter Martin Kidston at info@missoulacurrent.com