February marks the opening of the first new airport built in Kansas since 1989: Rooks County Regional. The new airport replaces two low-use grass airstrips in the cities of Plainville and Stockton with a paved runway on newly acquired property in between.
The $6 million project was a cooperative effort between Rooks County and the two cities to stimulate future growth and development in the area, explains county economic development director Roger Hrabe. "We wanted to be at the forefront, not sitting back wishing we had done something," Hrabe explains.
The new airport was financed with Airport Improvement Program dollars and local matching funds. A county-appointed airport commission oversees its management and operations.
Officials expect the airport's 5,000-foot paved runway to eventually make the area more attractive to new business opportunities, but they also have more immediate returns in mind. "In the short term, we're thinking about our existing businesses and meeting their needs," says Hrabe.
Location: Rooks County (KS) Regional
Cost: $6 million
Funding: Airport Improvement Program & local matching funds
Key Element: 5,000-foot paved runway
Future Plans: Terminal building, hangars, fuel facility, fixed-based operation
Planning & Engineering Prime Consultant: H.W. Lochner
Airfield Design & Construction Mgt: H.W. Lochner
Engineering Subconsultants: McPherson Engineering & Land Surveying Services; Kruger Technologies
Construction Prime Contractor: Sporer Land Development
Construction Subcontractors: Cillessen & Sons, Klaver Construction Co., RDH Electric, RFB Construction Co., Waffle-Crete Int'l
Wind Cone: Hali-Brite
Precision Approach Path Indicator: Cooper Crouse-Hinds Airport Lighting Products
Runway & Taxiway Edge Lights: Cooper Crouse-Hinds Airport Lighting Products, Flight Light
Runway End Identifier Lights & Guidance Signs: Cooper Crouse-Hinds Airport Lighting Products
Constant Current Regulator: Cooper Crouse-Hinds Airport Lighting Products
The county is also home to a high-end furniture design company that regularly flies employees to its showrooms around the globe. "We've never had the capability to suit their needs for [air travel]," he adds.
Getting the Ball Rolling
According to Hrabe, momentum for expanding aviation in the region began in 2004. That's when the county contracted H.W. Lochner to update the Airport Layout Plan and Airport Master Plan for existing airports in Plainville and Stockton, and to complete a site selection study for the new Rooks County Regional Airport.
The grass strip airports that Rooks County Regional replaced were primarily recreational-use facilities. The exception, notes Hrabe, was an aerial applicator that used both facilities. Together, the two locations had seven based aircraft and about 1,750 annual operations when planning began for the new airport. Hrabe projects the new facility will accommodate about 2,500 annual operations by 2014 and have 12 to 15 based aircraft.
From the very beginning, the county stressed the new airport's importance to the local economy, recalls Don Klapmeyer, P.E., of H.W. Lochner. "They had two small turf runways that they felt were limiting economic development in the area," explains the company vice president, practice leader of aviation.
Originally, the county considered expanding one of the existing runways at Stockton or Plainville, but neither location had enough space. "That's when discussion turned away from one of the city airports and they put the county in charge of it," Hrabe relates.
The site chosen required Rooks County to purchase two parcels of farmland totaling about 400 acres, between the cities of Plainville and Stockton. The location provides easy access to the county's new medical facility, an industrial park and Highway 183, which ties into Interstate 70.
In a coordinated effort between the airport commission and county officials, a gravel county road that previously split the two parcels of acquired land was closed and a portion was used as the airport entrance road. Much of the airport's land will remain farmland, notes Hrabe.
The airport's single 5,000-foot runway is capable of handling 30,000-pound aircraft, notes Matt Jacobs, P.E. senior project manager, aviation at H.W. Lochner. Turnarounds at both ends of the runway and a connecting taxiway allow pilots to exit the runway for run-ups and preflight checks. Other pavement work included a parking apron for aircraft tie-down. The connecting taxiway runs from the parking apron to the runway.
H.W. Lochner's design process included a topographical study to guide preliminary earthwork. In total, about 480,000 yards of dirt was moved, with materials from high spots being used to fill low spots. Topsoil that was stripped and moved aside at the start of the project was returned at the end of the major earthwork to facilitate grass growth.
Crews also stabilized the subgrade with fly ash and installed underdrains along the edge of the pavement, says Jacobs.
Currently, the only structure at the airport is a small concrete building that contains regulators, controls for the runway's edge lighting equipment and navigational aids. A separate room in the same facility houses a monitor for pilots to check weather conditions.
The airport's master plan includes a terminal building, fixed-base operation and space for at least three T-hangar units and several smaller box or conventional hangars. The ultimate build-out illustrated in the master plan also includes a full-length parallel taxiway for the current runway and an additional crosswind runway, notes Jacobs.
Adding hangar facilities is first on the list, Hrabe reports. "We're working both with an entity that might supply hangars for lease as well as people that might do their own private hangars," he explains.
Building a fuel facility is another high priority - a project he hopes can be partially financed by a grant from the Kansas Department of Transportation.
Longer-term plans to develop industry near the airport will involve "infrastructure challenges," notes Hrabe.
Whatever development the future brings, he'll likely change his public relations strategy. That's a lesson he learned during the initial airport development and runway construction.
"Assuming that people are reading about (the projects) in the paper and that they're going to pay attention to the notices of public meetings are not good assumptions to make," he relates. "If we had to do it all over again, I think we'd try to have more town hall-type public meetings."
Both Hrabe and Jacobs anticipate continued cooperation between the two cities and the county for further improvements. "I have no doubt that the commission and the county are going to stay strong with developing this facility," Jacobs relates. "They benefited from an FAA grant to get to this point, and they are going to work to make this a gem for the two communities."