Published 12:00 am Friday, February 8, 2008

million coming for fire station at airport|[02/08/08]

With a grant of more than $1 million from the Mississippi Development Authority in hand, Vicksburg fire officials and the management board of Vicksburg Municipal Airport can turn their daydreams of a new fire station and airport terminal, perhaps in one structure, into architect’s renderings.

The grant will provide Vicksburg $1.2 million toward a fire facility at the airport on U.S. 61 South. Total cost projections had not been made.

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The Vicksburg Fire Department started staffing its existing flood-prone outpost, about 100 yards from the existing terminal, in an existing building when the last municipal annexation became effective in 1990. Chief Keith Rogers said a larger station is planned that will bolster fire protection in south Vicksburg.

“I can’t get the personnel into the existing building that I really need,” Rogers said. “We want to be able to provide an ambulance down south.”

Rogers said the station should include at least three bays to park one ambulance and two fire trucks.

As development along U.S. 61 South increases, Rogers said fire protection must expand. He pointed to proposed casino developments as examples.

“I would love to see something that will take us into the future,” he said. “Money only goes so far, so we’ll just have to see.”

With three bays, the station would need facilities to house at least 12 firefighters, Rogers said. Three people per shift are stationed in the existing building.

Meanwhile, airport administrators are mulling their needs for their portion of what could be a combined facility.

Airport board president Kimball Slaton said the management panel’s name was not on the grant and the funding was strictly for fire department needs, but one structure could be the result.

On Thursday, Slaton announced the grant’s approval to board members and told them, “It’s time to start thinking about what we need.”

Ideas were kicked around, including rooms where pilots could shower and sleep, a restaurant or concession area, observation deck, even a smoking lounge. Slaton said growth at the airport must be considered when specifications are forwarded to an architect.

The current terminal is a two-story brick building which, according to operators, at about 60 years old, is the same age as the airport. The board discussed briefly the possibility of keeping it for other uses, but decided its structural problems and its limited historic value did not make a strong-enough case.

The airport is poised for growth, with groundwork complete on new hangars and talk among board members of an extended runway.

The airport board and Mayor Laurence Leyens met in January with representatives of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Army Reserve 412th Engineer Command and U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center, and discussed possible development partnerships and military use of the facility. This initial meeting has led to subsequent discussions, Slaton said.

Renewed interest in the airport’s future is due in part to its inclusion, in December, in the National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems. After being off the federal eligibility list since the 1970s, and nearly closed in the 1990s in favor of Vicksburg-Tallulah Regional Airport, it is again eligible for Federal Aviation Administration money.

Vicksburg’s most recently built fire facility is Memorial Station on Indiana Avenue. It was constructed after the 1990 annexation.