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story.lead_photo.caption The new parking deck is visible Friday at the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport in Highfill. The 20-year-old terminal building at the airport will be getting a makeover in the next couple of years. - Photo by David Gottschalk

HIGHFILL -- The 20-year-old terminal building at Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport will be getting a makeover in the next couple of years.

Airport officials expect more than 1.3 million travelers a year will pass through their gates by 2035, and they've been developing long-range improvement plans to accommodate those visitors when the time comes.

Board members had an informal session with engineers and architects last week to discuss a general idea of what they'd like the terminal to look like after the renovation and expansion.

The work should result in a "new front door to the airport and Northwest Arkansas," including a second-floor bridge to a new building across the road from the front of the terminal.

Board member Stan Green said he hopes the changes will be simple, open and elegant.

"The airport is going to be the first place in Northwest Arkansas that a lot of people see, so we want to make it a good and appropriate first impression," Green said. "Whatever we build for the terminal expansion, we want it to reflect appropriately and favorably on Northwest Arkansas."

The airport opened for commercial passenger business Nov. 1, 1998, at a cost of $107 million. Construction of the terminal building began in mid-September 1997.

A tentative renovation schedule calls for design work this year into next, bidding the project in 2019 and starting phased building in 2020 or 2021. Cost has yet to be determined.

Airport Director Kelly Johnson said an estimate of $20 million was given last year, but it's too early in the process to know for sure. Officials are working out how they'll pay for the improvements, Johnson said. Much of the money is expected to come from the Federal Aviation Administration.

The airport board last week approved spending $117,200 with the architecture firm Hight Jackson Associates for planning and programming services related to the project. Larry Perkin with the firm quizzed board members about what they want the terminal to look like, what features they'd like included, the number of floors they want, focal points, landscaping, finish materials and other amenities.

"We talked a lot about openness and exposure to the outdoors and trying to integrate in some fashion the idea of Northwest Arkansas as an art community into the airport," Green said. "And the whole idea of landscaping is to integrate into the airport that Northwest Arkansas is also a great place to be outdoors."

Perkin said his staff needed that information before designing the renovation.

"We were looking for the board's input on priorities because we have a limited budget, and we want to make sure we're addressing things in terms of priorities," Perkin said. "We were looking for ideas and things that they'd like to see happen in this project. Thirdly, we wanted to make sure we were all on the same page about those kinds of ideas."

Ryk Dunkelberg, vice president of aviation planning and environmental consulting at Mead & Hunt, airport consultants who have worked with Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport for several years, said it has been his experience that public projects in Northwest Arkansas are typically "unpretentious, yet sophisticated." Dunkelberg said he expects no less from the terminal renovation.

"To me, that says we don't want to build an architectural wonder, we want to work within our budget," Green said.

The Hight Jackson architectural team will coordinate with staff and will meet with the board again sometime around October and a passenger flow study is planned, Johnson said.

"Once you see the passenger movement for the structure, it gives you a whole lot of great ideas about where things should be and where things make sense," she said.

Consultants, the airport board and staff members identified 15 terminal improvement projects estimated at $223 million last year needed to meet long-term passenger demand on both the land and air sides of the terminal. The projects include parking decks, terminal rotunda, concourse and gate expansions, expanding security and baggage claim areas, arrivals and departures lobbies, administration space and improving access for aircraft.

A terminal renovation and improvement project report by Mead & Hunt was based on specific numbers of travelers triggering when improvements will be needed. Those four recommended annual passenger levels are 700,000, 900,000, 1.1 million and 1.3 million.

Boardings at the airport have been growing faster than was forecast for several years, which is generally attributed to the region's population and economic growth. The number of passengers flying out of the airport has been running about double compared to estimates, said Scott VanLaningham, executive director of the airport.

Boardings in 2017 saw 725,284 passengers depart from Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport. That was a 3.7 percent increase over 2016, and it was the first time the airport eclipsed 700,000.

Officials at Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport/Adams Field in Little Rock are contemplating $450 million in capital improvements over the next 20 years, including a reconfigured passenger terminal and arrival hall.

The arrival hall would include space for a Transportation Safety Administration inspection station and two additional gates to accommodate U.S. Customs and Border Protection and international passenger arrival services. Construction is anticipated in 2027 or 2028.

Passenger boardings at the Little Rock airport are expected to climb 1.4 percent annually to more than 1.3 million by 2036.

Photo by David Gottschalk
The terminal and front entrance is visible Friday at the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport in Highfill. The project to renovate the terminal building will include a new front door and a bridge to the new building across the loop drive from the main terminal and a second-floor bridge into what is now the front of the terminal.
Photo by David Gottschalk
The terminal and front entrance is visible Friday at the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport in Highfill. Board members on Wednesday had in an informal input session with engineers and architects to give them a general idea of what they'd like the terminal to look like after the planned renovation and expansion.

Metro on 06/25/2018

Print Headline: NW regional airport officials plan long-term improvements

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