New Terminal Opens the Door to Economic Growth in Winter Haven

Rebecca Kanable
Published in: 

Winter Haven, FL, really lived up to its name this winter. As the West Coast suffered mudslides and the East Coast endured record snowfalls and windchills, Winter Haven greeted visitors with sunshine and an average temperature of 62° F.

Facts & Figures

Project: New Terminal

Other Components: New Access Road, Vehicle Parking, Aircraft Apron & Taxiway System

Location: Winter Haven (FL) Municipal Airport

Owner/Operator: City of Winter Haven

Cost: $8.4 million

Funding: Florida Department of Transportation, City of Winter Haven

Apron Design Funding: FAA

Consultant: PBS&J

Architect/Designer: PBS&J

Contractor: SEMCO Construction Inc.

Key Benefits: Increased space, accessibility & functionality

Passengers flying into Winter Haven Municipal Airport (KGIF) receive an especially warm welcome these days - and a surprise if it's been awhile since they visited. The new and dramatically larger 13,362-square-foot terminal building completed in 2008 could make people think they've landed in another city. A new access road, landscaping and parking area are also earning double-takes.

The $8.4 million improvements, which include a new aircraft apron and taxiway system, are a deliberate effort by the city to provide aviation services to local residents and invite economic growth. In 2000, Winter Haven completed a vision plan not only for its airport, but for its library, downtown, Chain of Lakes trail and other projects as well.

Dale Smith, a 31-year city employee and new city manager, describes the goal for the city's airport: "When people fly into Winter Haven and get off their plane, we want them to be awed by the sight of the terminal. We want people's jaws to drop. First impression is so important."

The terminal, designed by PBS&J, is a modern interpretation of Florida Cracker architecture. The style, says PBS&J associate vice president Frances Boettcher, dates back to the late 19th century, when citrus growers used basic materials and skills to create farmhouses for Florida's subtropical setting. The airport's new terminal building incorporates many elements of the Dog-Trot, a representative Florida Cracker houseform that organizes rooms around a breezeway and includes passive energy features such as large porches, vertical openings, roof overhangs and vented metal roofs.

The most striking feature is the one-and-a-half-story tower that skews to one side.

"I think the building creates a landmark for the community," Boettcher says. "The central tower acts as a way-finding element (by land or air) and an organizing element, connecting the interior functions and the community to commercial aviation."

The terminal design also demonstrates the city's slogan, "The Chain of Lakes City," by incorporating natural materials inside and out. Wood trim, stone flooring and exposed wood trusses are used inside, while a metal roof, stone-faced columns and lap siding accent the exterior. Color finishes were drawn from a natural, environmental palette.

"We wanted something that would catch people's eyes, and this really does," says Smith, crediting PBS&J.

Airport Division director Cheryl Connor receives many compliments on the new facility. "Awesome" and "beautiful" are words frequently used, she reports. Connor herself can't say enough good things: "It shows well; it looks professional; it looks like a place people would want to come to as a destination."

Thomas Roda, civil engineer and PBS&J group manager, says the difference between the old and new terminals is as dramatic as night and day (see photos on page 8 & 9).

The old terminal - a 4,500-square-foot World War II hangar retrofitted with a couple offices built off the side - simply didn't have enough room for the airport's fixed-based operation, maintenance shop, flight school and city offices. The 10-foot-by-10-foot space designated for the airport director was more like a storage room than an office. With no place to call their own, pilots were sleeping on sofas in the main lobby.

Cheryl Connor

Thomas Roda

New & Improved

In the new terminal, pilots not only have a lounge and sleeping area, they also have a flight planning/weather room with three computers (including an Automated Surface Observing System). The City of Winter Haven has an office for the airport director, two smaller offices, a security room, mechanical room, copier room and reception area. The main entrance opens to a public lobby with sofas, tables and wireless Internet access.

The new terminal also includes space for community meetings and commercial tenants, notes Boettcher. The community meeting room seats 20 and is equipped for conference calls and PowerPoint presentations. Display cases provide room for promoting local attractions and outdoor recreation. Space prepared for the flight school includes a conference room, reception area, testing room and manager's office.

Site work for the project includes: a 19,000-square-yard asphalt aircraft apron; 1,500 feet of new taxiways; a 400-foot two-lane divided entrance; 77 new parking spaces; landscaping; airfield electrical; storm water management facilities and miscellaneous utilities.

The new-and-improved gateway to the city was also moved about a quarter-mile north of the old terminal, which was located between two main roads and was difficult to find. Landside, the new terminal faces U.S. Highway 92; airside, a new parallel taxiway facilitates direct access to the airport's primary runway.

Tortoises & More



Early in the improvement project, work slowed to a tortoise pace when gopher tortoises had to be relocated. Both the threatened species and its burrows are protected by state law and require permits to capture and relocate. Today, the tortoises live on the west side of the airport between the two runways - an area not slated for future development.

The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) presented further obstacles when it wouldn't allow a left turn lane that would have directed traffic onto the highway. It did, however, provide a grant to extend the entrance road so traffic could make a right turn at an intersection, where a traffic light will soon be installed.

Construction challenges included installing a storm drainage line underneath the primary runway, which required jack and bore methods, says Carl "Ed" Locke Jr., president of SEMCO Construction.

Eventually, price escalation came into play for the project that ran from July 2007 to November 2008. Funding for the project was originally to be split 80/20 between FDOT and the city of Winter Haven, respectively. But when the project went over the FDOT-funded amount, the city ended up paying for more than 20% of the total cost. The Federal Aviation Administration funded the apron design, which is not included in the $8.4 million price.

Built for the Future

With 440 available acres, there's room for more airport construction - specifically, development of an aviation-related commercial park. Initial plans were previously put on hold by the city due to economic conditions, but progress is expected in a year or so. The entire city has been beaming with excitement since January, when Merlin Entertainments announced it would build a Legoland Park on Winter Haven's historic Cypress Gardens property. Cypress Gardens closed in 2009; Legoland is scheduled to open in 2011.

The new terminal project has readied the airport for the future economic growth in many ways. So far, the airport has two commercial tenants: Enterprise Rent-A-Car and Richard's Fine Coffees, a 2,800-square-foot restaurant that's open seven days a week. A flight school that had been in the old hangar leased by the airport's fixed-based operation is also preparing to move in.

Room for three other businesses remains, and the city is intent on increasing terminal use.

According to Smith, new developments are too often filled up when they open. "We have built for the future," he specifies.

According to Connor, the airport was planned for 20 years out.

In a little over a year, jet traffic at Winter Haven Municipal has increased from three to four flights per month to at least one per day. With terminal improvements and rehabilitation to the main runway nearly complete, Connor expects traffic to increase even more. (The airport's current main runway, 4-22, will be redesignated Runway 5-23 after the rehab project, due to a change in magnetic declination.)

PBS&J focused on helping the city and airport plan for the future. "When they begin their commercial development and commercial hangars are built, the taxiway that parallels the highway can be extended," Roda explains. "The apron on the back can be extended. Drainage ponds were oversized. Utilities were planned with growth in mind."

Working Together

While technology is sometimes an afterthought in construction projects, that wasn't the case in Winter Haven. The city's Technology Services Department was included early in the project and worked with the general contractor, electrician and various project participants to facilitate implementation of technology. Instead of installing wires overhead, they were hidden under the flooring in conduit running the length of the building. Wiring is tucked in and unexposed, with only the tips of wireless antennas peeking out from the top of the building. In the large conference room, conduit comes up from the floor and through the leg of the conference table to provide electrical and networking capabilities.

Technology Services director Hiep Nguyen says the well-designed project will benefit the department's IT staff and airport when maintenance and support are needed. Proactive cooperation, he notes, was the overall greatest achievement in the large airport project.

"The architects, engineers and contractor (all local) were awesome," agrees Connor. "They all worked together well, and that made things go smoothly."

The result, says Roda, is a project everyone can be proud of. "Everyone took the project very seriously," he notes. "The terminal is a signature-type building. It serves as the gateway to the city through aviation."

Like the new terminal, Smith is proud and welcoming: "We invite anybody to come and take a look at the new terminal. We'd love to have people come to Winter Haven."


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