Illinois County Cuts Ribbon on New Terminal & Renames Airport to Honor Veterans

Robert Nordstrom
Published in: 

After 10 years of planning and negotiating and building, Williamson County Airport Authority recently cut the ribbon on its new terminal. To honor local veterans, it changed the name of the entire facility from Williamson County Regional Airport to Veterans Airport of Southern Illinois (MWA) and named the terminal after a local World War II flying ace and former airport authority chair. Fittingly, MWA dedicated the new Captain Robert W. Duncan Airline Terminal on Veterans Day (2016). 

The new terminal was sorely needed, informs Airport Director Doug Kimmel. "When I started at the airport in 1998, it was apparent to me that the terminal had design flaws," he reflects. "There wasn't a right angle in the entire building...and everything happened through one set of doors." 

The access challenges were tolerable with light passenger traffic; but when large charter groups began constantly crossing paths with rental car customers and airport administration staff, it became clear that the building simply didn't work. "People ended up out on the sidewalk and street just trying to get into and through the building," recalls Kimmel. 

From an aesthetic standpoint, the terminal was also a clear reflection of the year it was built: 1972.

Project: New Terminal
Location: Veterans Airport of Southern Illinois
Cost: $14 million
Funding: Airport Improvement Program (68%); airport (32%)
Prime Consultant-Architecture & Engineering: RS&H
Site Engineering: Clarida & Ziegler Engineering Co. 
Architecture Consultant: Baysinger Architects
General Contractor: Poettker Construction
Electrical: Brown Electric
Plumbing & Mechanical: SIPC
Site Development: Ramsey Excavating
Storefront Glass: Marion Glass & Mirror
Zinc Roofing & Exterior Panels: Rheinzink
Great Hall Ceiling System: Lamboo
Holdroom Seating: Arconas
Landside Public Seating & Office Furniture: Resource One
Translucent Panels: 3Form
Of Note: After 10 years of challenges & setbacks, officials renamed airport to honor local service members & dedicated new terminal on Veterans Day. 


Beyond design flaws and dated interior elements, the building's structural components were failing, adds Kimmel. Officials determined that renovating and expanding the old terminal would be throwing good money after bad, and embraced the idea of building a new terminal.

"It all came to a head in 2006, when we opened discussions with Allegiant Air about offering flights twice a week to and from Las Vegas," Kimmel explains. 

Faced with the prospect of increased passenger volume on the MD-80s the new service would bring in, airport officials began preparations for the new terminal in earnest. "We didn't even have parking space for the 100+ passengers who would arrive [on each flight]," Kimmel recalls. 

Today, after 10 years of ups and downs during planning, design and construction, the Williamson County Airport Authority is proud of the larger, better-equipped terminal it built directly adjacent to the old one. The new $14 million, 23,000-square-foot facility provides the community and travelers with the services and amenities they deserve, Kimmel notes.

"We feel great satisfaction at the completion of this beautiful terminal structure," says Airport Authority Chairman Bernard Paul. "It will mean so much in shaping the careers and futures of the people of southern Illinois." 

Unlike the previous 17,000-square-foot terminal, the new facility was built with expansion capabilities. According to airport personnel, the old building will be torn down by January 2017.  

Solutions Beget Problems
Symbolically, the road leading to MWA's new terminal was long and winding, with many potholes along the way. 

Back in 2006 and 2007, with increased Allegiant service looming, airport officials began devising immediate solutions for the terminal's structural deficiencies. To address capacity constraints for departing passengers, MWA created a temporary holdroom by placing a doublewide modular trailer on the ramp. Although it provided much-needed space, the trailer was not considered as an acceptable long-term solution. "It couldn't have been more embarrassing for the airport and community when welcoming travelers to the airport and region for the first time," recalls Kimmel. 

Baggage claim-a small hallway with a single rollup door-presented similar challenges. When more than 100 passengers were trying to retrieve their luggage, it created a logistical nightmare, not to mention fire code violations, he explains.

The airport solved this problem by moving the baggage claim area to the front side of the building, where a brick wall separates landside passengers from the secure ramp area. Several rollup doors were cut into the brick wall to create an area outside the building for baggage pickup. 

This solution, however, created another logistical problem: Congestion in the baggage claim area impeded traffic from passengers trying to enter the terminal. Nevertheless, the airport had no other good options at the time.

Faced with mounting capacity issues, the authority board initiated discussions about 
finding a long-term solution and eventually hired RS&H to initiate a terminal area improvement planning study.

In late 2007, Allegiant officially debuted its new service from MWA to Las Vegas, complete with corporate representatives and a casino showgirl. New baggage claim doors were in place, and the temporary holdroom stood ready on the ramp. 

Then Kimmel got a phone call. 

The call came from an official in Allegiant's planning department, who told him that the airline was freezing new operations due to fuel costs and economic trends moving into 2008. "It was literally two weeks after the announcement," Kimmel states incredulously. "They had even begun selling tickets."

But just as solutions sometimes beget problems, problems sometimes beget opportunities. Allegiant had opened the door regarding plans for a new terminal, and airport officials were not about to allow that door to slam shut. RS&H continued working on the planning study, and airport officials began talking to the FAA about the deficiencies in its existing terminal, using the Allegiant example as a case in point. Even without the anticipated additional traffic, MWA could not adequately handle its current commuter service when servicing large charter operations for athletic teams from nearby Southern Illinois University, notes Kimmel.  

"We explained our situation and circumstances to the FAA: If not now, five or 10 years from now, we were going to have to address these issues," he relates. "The FAA agreed, encouraging us to move ahead with the planning study. That's what we did as we moved through 2008."

Eye on the Prize
Though seeds for a new terminal had been planted and ideas were sprouting, a few weeds popped up as well. In 2007, RegionsAir, which provided local service to St. Louis, experienced a significant decrease in traffic and eventually went out of business. As a result, MWA's annual enplanements dropped below 10,000-the magic number needed to qualify for federal entitlement funds. Without Airport Improvement Program (AIP) funding from the FAA, the terminal project was dead. Nevertheless, the airport authority authorized RS&H to move forward with the terminal study.

Great Lakes Airlines offered air services throughout 2008 and most of 2009 under a Department of Transportation contract, but was unable to move enplanements above 10,000 per year. RS&H continued the planning study and also completed a financial plan study to estimate costs for the new terminal. Although the FAA responded favorably, it wasn't willing to pay for the project, explains Kimmel. 

Finally, in late 2009, Cape Air replaced Great Lakes at the airport, and by the end of 2010 pushed annual enplanements above the 10,000 mark. "Cape Air came on strong with more flights per day and lower airfares," Kimmel reports. "The market really responded."

Once again eligible for FAA funding, the airport began the terminal design phase in 2012 and eventually decided to build a new terminal on the west side of the existing terminal so operations could continue with minimal interruptions. In early 2013, the FAA approved the design and agreed to provide AIP funding at 75.65% for 95% of the building's cost. In the end, FAA paid for 68% of the $14 million total cost, and the airport funded 32%. 

Throughout several years of terminal planning and design work, airport officials made a concerted effort to keep the FAA apprised of study results and elicit its feedback. Tony Molinero, FAA spokesperson for the Great Lakes Region, commends MWA for taking such an interactive approach. "When any airport is looking to undertake a big project, it's always good to talk to the FAA right away," says Molinero. "It gives FAA officials a better understanding of what the airport is trying to accomplish. That helps when we have to make decisions on discretionary monies in the future. Our best relationships are with airport management with whom we are talking all the time."

Persistence Pays Off
Although the airport broke ground for the new terminal in October 2014, most of the construction work didn't begin until March 2015 because of winter weather. 

For funding reasons, planners divided the project into two phases. The first phase encompassed all site work, including roadways and parking, the steel building structure and its exterior skin. During Phase Two, crews completed the building's interior and various systems.

Features of the new terminal include:
• realigned and improved roadways and parking;
• curbside canopy system to protect travelers from inclement weather;
• integrated airline and TSA areas;
• 100-seat holdroom to accommodate large charter groups;
• new restrooms;
• direct access from rental car offices to ready rental parking spaces;
• 216 additional vehicle parking spaces;
• new baggage chute system with room for baggage carousel in the future;
• airport administration offices and operations center on second floor;
• more efficient and sustainable energy systems;
• enhanced security, paging and surveillance systems;
• and the ability to expand easily in the future.

Travelers enter the new terminal through center doors into a two-story great hall area with a barrel-vaulted ceiling. Ticketing is located on one side and baggage claim on the other. Departing passengers move through an open meet-and-greet area to the TSA screening checkpoint and into a 100-seat holdroom. Large expanses of glass wash interior spaces with light, and a spiral staircase and elevator lead to the second floor, which houses administrative offices, a boardroom, break room and an observation area that overlooks the tarmac.

RS&H created the ceiling/roof structure in the great hall area with a steel and glulam bamboo timber system manufactured by Lamboo. "We were pleased to find a strong and sustainable product," notes architect Andrew Nelson. "The system allows for large spans using economical pieces of lumber and steel. It worked very well in helping us create the expansive arch in the great hall."

The open area helps create a distinctive feel in the new facility, adds Mark Wilcer, project manager and senior aviation architect with RS&H. "The terminal harkens back to the great halls found in some of the old train stations that used to be at the center of our nation's transportation system," he remarks. 

Given the previous problems with pedestrian traffic in the old terminal, creating efficient flow throughout the building was a key priority. Additional entrances/exits were added on each side of the building to eliminate congestion in the center of the building. Now, travelers can retrieve their bags and exit directly to the parking lot or rental car area.

Designers drew inspiration from the region's numerous lakes and other natural features when conceiving various interior elements. They selected light and dark shades of flooring tile that suggest the boundary between shore and water to help demarcate landside and airside areas. Translucent panels that shield the TSA screening checkpoint and other perimeter areas throughout the terminal are adorned with embedded leaves and grass. 

"These warm materials link the interior to nature and the landscape," Nelson explains.

For the building exterior, architects paired large expanses of glass with precast concrete panels. The roof system and select outside panels are clad in a zinc material that will develop varied hues of patina as it ages. 

Planning for Tomorrow
According to Kimmel any new terminal should accommodate an airport's needs for at least 25 years. "This building will accommodate us for at least 50 years," he adds emphatically. "Unlike the old terminal, it can be expanded on the east and the west. It's a modern building that looks good from the highway and is now an element in our region's landscape."

Given the extended timeline of MWA's project, Kimmel credits the FAA for its support throughout the long, sometimes painful, planning, design and building process.

"I have come to understand that oftentimes airports are a little too quick on the draw and want to forge ahead politically by going to their federal legislators (for funding assistance)," he reflects. "That's not a fair way to handle business with an organization charged with managing a complex system of airports and airport projects. I think the FAA was appreciative that we provided information over time on each aspect of the project."

When MWA did approach legislators for help, it was able to let them know that airport officials had already vetted plans with the FAA, he adds. 

In the end, the project created more than 200 jobs and $21 million of economic impact in the area. U.S. Senator Dick Durbin, who championed the terminal program for the airport, reflects positively on its results. "Having access to reliable air service is essential to growing businesses that create jobs in Illinois," says the legislator. "In addition to supporting good-paying, local construction jobs...this project is a prime example of how federal dollars can be used to fill critical gaps in essential infrastructure."


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