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“Montana modern:” Missoula airport moves closer to final design, vertical construction

An artist’s rendering of the new passenger terminal at Missoula International Airport. The first phase is set to open in the fall of 2021.

A month after vetting materials for a new passenger terminal at Missoula International Airport, officials on Tuesday got an overview of the design and how it will appear to travelers when the facility opens in 2021.

The terminal’s $72 million budget will begin to firm up over the coming weeks as the airport completes its final construction documents, including baggage claim, jet bridges and security screening, among other details.

“A&E and Martel (Construction) are getting our 100 percent construction documents ready by October,” said Tim Damrow, the airport’s manager of projects. “That’s the next big milestone of the project. Once that October package is out, we’ll have a pretty good idea of what the total cost is going to be.”

After years of planning, the airport began construction this summer on its new terminal, one needed to replace a dated facility that’s ill-equipped to handle today’s aircraft and increased passenger loads.

A number of phases have already been completed, including demolition of the old structure, excavation of the new terminal’s south concourse, and foundation work. The airport budgeted roughly $16.9 million for that portion of the project, which is nearly complete.

Vertical construction is expected to start this winter with an estimated cost of $48 million. The airport received welcome news last month when its bid for steel came in $760,000 below estimate.

“Crews are working on the footings for the south concourse,” Damrow said. “They had to shift the schedule around a bit due to weather, but they were able to continue working on the south concourse.”

With vertical construction set to begin, the airport has turned its focus to function and form, as well as the passenger experience.

Scott Osteen with A&E described the interior design as “Montana modern” with its inclusion of wood, patterned glass and steel. It also includes way-finding elements to help passengers navigate the facility, be it a bathroom or a drinking fountain.

“It’s part of the intuitive way-finding method we’ve adopted into this project,” said Osteen. “All the restrooms have the same look and feel to them, so once you go in one, you see that same material happening elsewhere in the airport.”

Passengers also will experience more room and more amenities in the new terminal. A larger restaurant, bar and concession is planned beyond security, along with a gift shop.

Both will occupy a portion of the new concourse. The airport has issued a request for proposals from potential future tenants.

“What we’re tasked with now is to design a shell of those spaces,” said Osteen. “We’re trying to capture a look and feel that matches the rest of the airport. Once that RFP runs its course, we’ll complete the interior portion of that design.”

A new baggage handling system is also in design, along with the jet bridges to serve the new concourse. The concourse will include five gates, which are also in design.

“We’re working with MSO staff now to develop a hold-room layout,” Osteen said. “We’ve got two different versions – a very condensed version and another that’s a little more spread out. There’s various seat counts we want to look at with those two. There’s give and take, and that’s part of our current process.”

Dubbed the “South Paw Concourse” in the project overview, the new concourse is set to open in the fall of 2021. It will be followed by the project’s second phase, that being the East Paw Concourse.

That portion of the project carries an estimated cost of $39 million and includes the demolition of the existing terminal, the construction of its replacement and baggage claim. Once fully built, the new airport will offer modern amenities throughout with more room for aircraft and passengers.

While the project is well underway, it can’t finish soon enough for airport officials.

“It was as challenging a summer as we’ve seen here for a long time,” said Cris Jensen, airport director. “We’re seeing that our building is being pushed to the limit. The ultimate answer is a new building, but we’re still two years-plus away from really being in that new facility. We have two more summers to get finished.”