Port Pulls Back on Planned Airport Improvements

By Geoff Folsom, October 31, 2013, Tri-City Herald

The Port of Pasco has scaled back almost $6 million from planned renovations to the Tri-Cities Airport because of unexpectedly high costs.

The port can’t spend more than $43.7 million on the construction, which aims to double the terminal’s size from 55,000 to 110,000 square feet, officials said at Thursday’s board meeting.

The costs of the plan the port had been looking at have ballooned to $49.4 million, officials said.

Several thousand square feet of space — including about 30 seats in the waiting area near the planned Gate 5 at the terminal — will be taken out of the plan, senior architect Tim Dacey of Portland-based Mead & Hunt told the board.

A baggage delivery system to assist the Transportation Security Administration in screening luggage will also be removed, Dacey said.

A less-expensive type of glass will be used in a large window planned for the middle of the terminal, while renovations to second-floor restrooms will also be put off, Dacey said.

The space being removed from the terminal plans can be added back as the airport grows, said Jim Toomey, the port’s executive director.

That might not be the last of the cuts. Dacey showed a set of plans for what the port could do if an anticipated $8 million in Federal Aviation Administration security grant money falls through.

That would reduce the construction fund to $35.7 million, forcing the port to improve the existing ticket and lobby area rather than build new, Dacey said. The airport also might have to keep its existing baggage claim machines and use a less-efficient heating and air conditioning system.

A meeting with FAA officials went well earlier this week, airport director Ron Foraker said. He told the board he feels good about the airport’s chances of getting the $8 million federal grant.

Even if the grant doesn’t come through, Foraker expects the FAA to allow the port to take the money for airport improvements from the money the FAA annually gives to the airport, he said.

The board knew not to expect to get everything it originally wanted for the expansion, Commission President Jean Ryckman told the Herald.

“You know how it is when you’re buying a house and you want the best of everything, and you have to scale back,” she said.

Construction on the airport expansion is expected to begin in June or July and continue for about two years, Ryckman said. It will be done in phases to minimize inconvenience to passengers.

The port is expected to have more firm numbers at its Nov. 14 meeting, when the final design will be 60 percent complete, Toomey said.

The port plans to pay for the bulk of the project with a $24.6 million bond, which will be paid back over 20 years using money generated from a $4.50-per-passenger facility charge, Toomey said. Airport revenue, including parking and fees charged to airlines, will cover the rest, along with federal grants. Another hoped-for $8 million FAA grant will pay for improvements to the airport’s taxiway that will be needed because of the changes to the terminal building.

Toomey expects to see around $60 million in total improvements at the airport within the next five to 10 years. he said. Project manager David Robinson stressed the importance of bidding the airport expansion as soon as possible. Half a billion dollars in new construction projects is planned for bidding next year in the Tri-Cities, including five new schools. Getting the bidding done early would keep costs down by avoiding competition for construction workers.

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