Aviation key to terminal's design

Jun. 19--The new terminal at Wichita's Mid-Continent Airport will be larger, easier to navigate and will better capitalize on Wichita's aviation heritage than the one that is there now.

That's the thrust of new schematic designs unveiled for the first time Monday during a joint meeting of the city's airport board and design council.

"This will be all about Wichita and your heritage," said Tim Cahill, the national designer for HNTB, the Kansas City, Mo., architecture firm the city hired to design the terminal.

Sonia Greteman, who is helping set up public art and interior design, said the idea is to focus on aviation -- nothing else -- and reclaim Wichita's title as Air Capitol of the World.

"I think that's pretty powerful as a brand," she said, standing before two long tables of architects and airport board members in a meeting room at the Hilton Hotel.

Although the two boards approved of the design and showed some enthusiasm for it, several worried that the price tag will go beyond the $150 million that City Council members have tentatively approved.

They also worried that any increase could raise airline ticket prices since the project is funded almost entirely by airport fees -- not tax dollars.

"There's no secret here that a project of this magnitude can get off the track," Airport Director Victor White said. "It's a dangerous business sometimes."

But he tried to assure the two boards that it's in everyone's best interest to bring the project in at the projected cost.

The two-level, 230,000-square-foot building will sit just west of the current terminal. It will have four lanes of pick-up/drop-off traffic, a large canopy over the sidewalk and more parking. Inside, the ticketing area will be about 20 feet wider -- wide enough for promotional or artistic displays such as cars or sculptures.

After getting tickets, passengers would take an escalator or elevator to the second level where they would find four lines of security checks and glass walls that allow them to see planes take off and land. The concourse would be about 10 feet wider than the one at the current terminal.

"I think it will be a very powerful design," Cahill said.

The height of the building is limited by the existing control tower, which will continue to be used. Federal Aviation Administration guidelines require air traffic controllers to see most portions of the airfield so line-of-sight and shadow studies were conducted to ensure the existing tower can be used, at least for the first few years.

Bill Ward, a board member, said he's concerned there hasn't been enough study of fire safety and it seems like the focus is just on art and aesthetics.

"It seems like the art department has commandeered our project," he said.

Several design council members said, however, that the terminal is something that visitors and Wichitans alike will remember and they don't want to skimp on making it a memorable place.

Designers floated several ideas, such as building a glass canopy over the outside sidewalk that would have different historical aircraft drawn on the glass, casting shadows of the planes' shapes onto the sidewalk below. The concept was used in Knoxville using leaves instead of airplanes.

Architects also showed several examples of other airports, which have incorporated stone, terra-cotta, metallic and glazing themes in the exterior design.

But those are all concepts now. The architects will refine their plans and present them to the City Council in a workshop in July. In August, the Airport Authority, comprised entirely of City Council members, will vote whether to move the project into the next stage, which will include the technical specifications.

The existing terminal was built in 1954. The city and its consultants have said it has problems with the roof, heating and air conditioning and isn't properly accessible to people with disabilities.

The new terminal is supposed to solve those problems and more. It will be able to handle 2 million passengers a year and could be expanded to move up to 2.4 million people through a year. It will have 10 boarding gates and could accommodate more planes if they are smaller regional jets. If approved, construction could begin in late 2008 and the new airport could be ready for passengers in 2011.

The existing terminal will be demolished once the new one is built.

Reach Brent D. Wistrom at 316-268-6228 or bwistrom@wichitaeagle.com [mailto:bwistrom@wichitaeagle.com]

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