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Almost Ready: New Terminal At Wichita Dwight D. Eisenhower National Airport

  Originally aired 4-09-15 during Morning Edition

Credit Deborah Shaar
Airport Director Victor White

The new terminal at Wichita's Dwight D. Eisenhower National Airport is in its final construction phase, with the official opening expected in May.

In the meantime, public events, beginning with this Saturday’s Dedication Gala, will provide a preview of the facility.

KMUW’s Deborah Shaar visited the terminal and has this progress report...

Concrete trucks deliver wet cement to a large area at the back of the new terminal. More than a dozen workers are spreading the cement and leveling it. The area will be used as the new stretch that airplanes will use to taxi directly up to Gate 1.  

It’s the last section of the paving project outside of the two-story terminal going up at Eisenhower National.

Airport Director Victor White says the construction work is close to wrapping up, and ahead of schedule.

"When we did the groundbreaking for the project in September of 2012, we told everyone it take about three years to do the project and to have it open," White says. "We’re actually going to have it open probably several months ahead of time."

Credit Deborah Shaar

Crews inside the terminal work on the finishing touches for walls, archways and other areas throughout the building.

The Concourse is on the second level and has 12 gates, the same as the current terminal.

There are holding areas full of rows of newly attached black chairs and new carpet.

Much of the completed work here, including the terrazzo floors, are covered for protection...and that can be deceiving.

Credit Deborah Shaar
Pat McCollom, Construction Program Manager

Pat McCollom is in charge of the construction projects. He says when folks start coming in for the preview events, the terminal may not look like it’s done. But he says the level of completion is actually at about 90 percent.

"The floors are done. The ceilings are done," McCollum says. "Some of the walls still need panels to be placed on them. Much of the behind the scenes areas are all complete at this point. Our baggage handling system is entirely completed and certified."

Within the Concourse and near the gates will be three retail shops and five restaurants including Chick-fil-A and Dunkin’ Donuts. The businesses in these areas still need to build out and finish their spaces.

The security checkpoint leading into the Concourse features expanded passenger security screening to meet TSA’s latest, and potential future, standards.

"The area for the security is nearly double the size of the area that we have right now. So the queuing is much greater," McCoullum says. "There are four lanes that we are planning to use on day one. There is expansion capabilities to move it to six lanes."

McCollom says the mezzanine, overlooking the ticket counters and baggage claim, is the crown jewel of the upper level.

"The mezzanine is the meet and greet area," he says. "It’s the last area prior to going into the security checkpoint, and it’s also the first area that you greet arriving passengers coming off the concourse."

It’s also the place where the terminal’s two major art elements combine.

Credit Deborah Shaar

Wing-like exhibits sticking out along the back wall of the mezzanine will include images and details about Wichita’s aviation heritage.

Soaring above is an expansive steel cable and glass sculpture created by Oregon artist Ed Carpenter.

"It’s quite breathtaking actually," McCoullum says.v It spans 330 feet in length, nearly the size of a football field, and slightly ascends and descends over both levels in the terminal.

Light from the skylights will provide a continual changing color pattern on the walls and floor.

McCollom says the art, like many in the features of the new terminal, is designed to evoke images and feelings of flight and space.

Credit Deborah Shaar

"We wanted to be the first and last impression of Wichita and really illustrate the capabilities of the community," McCollum says. "So there’s a lot of elements, shapes, images that kind of evoke aviation manufacturing. Our air diffusers on our walls look like WEMAGS, which are in commercial jets. So there are a lot of parts and pieces that celebrate our local aviation heritage."

Down on the first level, workers finish up the floor in front of the ticket counters. The airlines’ self-ticketing check-in kiosks will go in next. There are three baggage claim areas.

Airport Director Victor White says this ground level creates a lasting first impression.

"When we take folks into the building for the first time and walk into what we call the 'Great Hall,' which is where the ticketing and baggage claim areas are focused, people look in the room and say, 'This is amazing,'" White exclaims. "From a visual and psychological standpoint, it just makes them feel so good, especially when you compare it to the 1950s architecture of the current terminal."

Credit Deborah Shaar

Outside, in front of the terminal, the four-level parking garage is nearly complete. There will be 16-hundred parking spaces in the garage and several surface lots for short and long term parking.

Overall, the parking options airport-wide will increase by 70 percent. The parking garage costs about $40 million. The terminal, about $160 million.

Director White is quick to point out that no taxpayer money was used to pay for the construction projects.

"The only people who pay for it are the folks who actually use the airport," White says. "Even the federal grants from the FAA and the TSA that go into this project are not general federal taxpayer dollars. They are from user fees collected from folks who use the aviation system. That makes it really a lot more palatable to people who say, “You shouldn’t have done it. It’s too expensive. We didn’t need it.” Well if you don’t use it, you’re not paying for it."

Once the new building opens, all of the above ground structures in the current terminal will be demolished. White says it could take up to a year.

"We need that space for airplanes to operate around the new terminal," he says. "We need it for overnight parking of aircraft that are here now, and we also may have some future development opportunities for such things as perhaps a museum and a hangar over close to the air traffic control tower."    

But for now, everyone is focused on preparing for the public events, including the ribbon-cutting and the first flight out of the new terminal...ten years in the making.

"So we’re getting close to the end, but we don’t have time to sit back and relax and enjoy anything because there’s literally dozens of things that have to be decided every day between now and opening day," White says.

When that official opening day comes, it’ll be the start of a third chapter in Wichita’s airport history.

The city’s first terminal opened 80 years ago. The second opened 61 years ago. Now comes the third, they hope, will open in May.

Upcoming Community Preview Events: 

  • Saturday, April 11 6-10 p.m. Dedication Gala
  • Saturday, April 18 1-5 p.m. Community Open House
  • May TBA First Flight/ Ribbon Cutting