Planes moving into new airport hangar

Published 12:28 pm Friday, July 2, 2010

Owners of planes based at Vicksburg Municipal Airport began moving them into a long-anticipated, recently completed 10-bay hangar Thursday, marking completion of a Katrina-funded project that will add about $1,425 in monthly revenue to support airport operations.

“This is the first major project we’ve completed since I’ve been here,” said Curt Follmer, who was hired as airport manager in December 2008. “It feels good to see some real progress.”

The hangar, called a T-hangar because of the shape of each rentable space, cost about $750,000 to construct, of which the city was responsible for about $430,000, Follmer said. The rest is being paid for with a share of the $1.3 million Community Development Block Grant the city received following Hurricane Katrina. The airport’s board of directors began asking the city to fund a T-hangar at the airport about five years ago.

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A fire station is also being built on the airport grounds with the largest share of the CDBG grant funds, and Follmer said that project is probably five months from completion. Construction contracts on the T-hangar and fire station projects were both awarded last September, but wet conditions over the winter months delayed both.

“It would have been done long before now had it not been for the weather,” Follmer said of the T-hangar.

Lease agreements for all 10 bays have been in place for months, and tenants began moving in immediately after a ribbon cutting ceremony.

“We can’t afford not to continue with improvements and upgrades out here,” Mayor Paul Winfield said before putting an oversized pair of scissors to the ribbon. “If handled properly and managed well, our airport can be an important economic development tool for our city in the future. This is progress toward that goal.”

Vicksburg is also a partner in Vicksburg-Tallulah Regional and the 60-year-old municipal facility on U.S. 61 South was on the downslope for a decade before former Mayor Laurence Leyens spearheaded efforts to fund an array of improvements, key to which was returning the facility to the FAA’s list of grant-eligible airports.

Vicksburg continues to fund VTR, at Mound, La., with the other owners — Warren County, Tallulah and Madison Parish.

Half of the bays will be filled with new tenants, said Follmer. The five others are moving in from three other communal hangars at the airport. One of them is privately held and tenants do not pay rent to the airport, while the others net anywhere from $100 to $200 per month from about 10 tenants total.

Separately, the city’s building maintenance crew has begun making progress on the renovation of the airport’s 60-year-old terminal after a long period of inactivity. The renovation began in October 2008, and while the exterior was completed last summer, interior work was idle for most of 2009 due to limitations by the eight-member maintenance crew. The renovation is being done in-house to meet local matching requirements of the CDBG grant.

“We’re trying to get down there as often as we can, but we have 62 buildings that we have to keep maintained and we just haven’t been able to keep a crew down there every day,” said Interim Building Maintenance Director Sammie Rainey.

Rainey said crews have been on site on and off for about the past four months, and are nearing completion of the electrical work. New interior walls will be next, at which point Rainey said he’ll be able to better estimate a completion date.

“It’s going to be a couple more months at the very least,” he said. “A lot of it depends on what comes up at the other buildings. We’re dealing with a lot of air conditioning repairs right now.”

Cost estimates on the terminal renovation have been pegged around $300,000, but it is possible the delay will increase material costs when it’s finally complete. The airport has been using a prefab house as a makeshift terminal since renovations began, and has been paying $1,000 rent on it per month.

VTR board members have asked for a $25,000 supplement from each owner. The Vicksburg Board of Mayor and Aldermen have not taken up the request at a public meeting yet, while the Warren County Board of Supervisors have verbally agreed to giving the extra funds, but have not taken a vote on the matter.

The four owners have subsidized the regional airport’s operation equally since inking a 25-year operational agreement in 1983; a contract that has since expired and is in the process of being renewed for another 25 years.