Plans for a new Wilkes County Airport terminal were reviewed but no action taken to build it during the Oct. 15 county commissioners meeting.
Conceptual drawings for both a one-story and two-story terminal were presented by Jimmy Luther of Charlotte-based W.K. Dickson & Co. and architect Stan Anthony of Shelby-based Boomerang Design.
Whether one or two stories, plans call for a facility with around 4,300 to 5,000 square feet of floor space.
Luther, the county’s airport engineer, said the current 2,288-square-foot terminal is among the oldest in the state and doesn’t have enough public space. It was built in the mid-1980s with other initial airport construction in the Rock Creek community east of North Wilkesboro.
Airport terminals are often viewed as gateways to communities and state officials have placed a high priority on construction of new terminals in recent years, said Luther.
In June 2018, the commissioners hired Dickson to design a new terminal, a 10-bay T-hangar to provide leased aircraft storage space and taxi-lanes connecting the T-hangar to the runway.
Luther said state Non-Primary Entitlement funding is already in place for designing the new terminal and there are opportunities for securing funds from the state for 100%, 90% or 50% of the cost of constructing a new terminal.
“I would pretty much say bank on your regular 90-10,” said Luther, referring to the federal government providing 90% of funding through the state and the county providing 10%.
“That would make a big difference,” said Keith Elmore, chairman of the commissioners.
A committee consisting of Elmore, Commissioner Gary Blevins, Wilkes Airport Board members and County Manager John Yates agreed to present concepts for a one-story and two-story terminal to the full Wilkes Board of Commissioners for consideration. Both concepts involve tearing down the current terminal and building a new one in its place.
Elmore asked what consideration was given to incorporating the existing terminal instead of tearing it down and building an entirely new facility.
Anthony said, “I think there are issues with the funding. It can only be for new buildings.” He also said a second floor couldn’t be added to the existing terminal.
Luther said building setback requirements limit how far the existing terminal could be expanded toward the runway and expanding it in the other direction would reduce visibility of both ends of the runway from the terminal due to existing hangars.
Luther said being able to see both ends of the runway as well as possible, which he said the two-story option provides, is especially important because departing and arriving aircraft don’t always make radio contact.
Anthony, also mayor of Shelby, made a Powerpoint presentation showing details of the two concepts and handed out papers with this information. He said they incorporate needs identified in the committee’s earlier meetings.
Both have a pilot’s lounge with a bathroom and showers with direct access from the taxiway 24/7 so pilots can use it without the entire terminal being open and an area for the airport’s fixed base operator (FBO), both on the first floor of the two-story terminal.
The meeting room for events and other purposes in both concepts is considerably larger than in the current terminal. In plans for a two-story terminal, the meeting room is on the second floor. Both concepts also have a lobby/waiting area, flight planning/day room and a room with a catering kitchen for events.
Anthony said the committee wants to feature stone and wood in construction of the new terminal to create a “front door to Wilkes image” reflecting the county’s mountains.
“I would definitely go with the two-story,” said Commissioner Eddie Settle, who went to one of the terminal committee’s meetings as an alternate when Elmore couldn’t attend.
Blevins agreed and said it’s a much better layout and design, with a great second-floor view. “It would be a nice presentation for people coming in. We’re getting more traffic at the airport and a lot more people coming in so it has a lot of benefits in terms of economic development.”
Luther said the next step would be for the commissioners to authorize W.K. Dickson to develop a set of contract documents and put the project out for bids to get firm numbers on construction costs.
He said the project’s cost, based on those bids, would be presented to the N.C. Division of Aviation (DOA) and that office would help determine funding sources sought for construction.
Luther said the new terminal is among multiple proposed and unfunded Wilkes Airport projects needing to be prioritized for state funding.
The others include a runway extension so the airport can accommodate larger aircraft (including Samaritan’s Purse aircraft) and an aviation fuel farm (storage facility).
Luther said letters of support from Wilkes Airport tenants and other users and other documentation justifying the runway extension are being sought and will go to the Federal Aviation Administration and DOA. He said data showing the need is also being compiled.
Wilkes County officials learned in late August that the county had been awarded a $1.5 million economic development grant from DOT for a taxiway connecting the runway to a new Samaritan’s Purse hangar to be built at the Wilkes County Airport. No local match is required.
Yates said this new taxiway would also connect the proposed county-owned, 10-bay T-hangar, which hasn’t been funded. He said repaving of the existing airport taxiway, approved for state funding, is to start this spring.
Settle asked Luther if the Wilkes County Airport could become the Wilkes Regional Airport with the new terminal and runway extension.
“You can make a name change, but most of the time you wouldn’t make that name change unless you support it….” responded Luther, adding that more than corporate air traffic is needed.
Settle said being a regional airport could attract development of the county-owned graded building sites at the airport.
Blevins said a man is possibly interested in having a museum at the airport, Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center moved its AirCare helicopter from the Elkin Airport to the Wilkes Airport and Samaritan’s Purse brought an international component to it.
He said he believes something bigger than what has been accomplished so far economically is about to occur. “Something’s going to break.”
Addressing the other commissioners, Blevins said, “So, there’s no action to be taken at this time, correct?”
Only Settle responded, saying the possibility of the county only having to pay 10% of a new terminal’s cost was good news.
Luther said he’ll work with Anthony to create something showing next steps for coming up with contract documents “and see if we can’t get that going…. Maybe six to seven months from now, we’ll have a real hard number (for the cost of building a new terminal) if that’s where you want to go.”
Elmore asked Luther to again confirm that funds are in place from the state for new terminal design costs and Luther said they are.
Commissioners David Gambill and Brian Minton didn’t comment during the discussion of the proposed new terminal and other airport improvements.