The Cost of Wichita's New Terminal Gives City Pause

Jun. 28--The cost of building a new terminal for Wichita Mid-Continent Airport has jumped from the $132 million estimated two years ago to $211 million, according to new estimates released Tuesday.

Now some Wichita City Council members wonder whether grants, bonds and flier fees will still be enough to pay for it.

"It's a chunk of change, by golly," council member Jim Skelton said. "And to what end?"

Airport officials and hired consultants say they still want to build the same appealing, two-level airport they envisioned two years ago, and they still want to do it spending only federal dollars and airport revenue.

But a combination of higher construction costs -- brought on in part by the rebuilding rush after Hurricane Katrina -- and revised cost estimates have pushed the projected cost up $79 million, said director of airports Victor White and consultants from DMJM Aviation and HNTB, who are helping plan and design the new building.

More than one-third of the increase is a financial cushion that they want to build in just in case another Hurricane Katrina-type event strikes and leads to another sharp increase in construction costs.

Now White says the council needs to decide if it wants to OK spending $12.6 million for a design team to start drafting the new airport.

"We're at a crossroads here," White said. "We have to decide to do something or not do something."

Council member Paul Gray said he would like to see a report due out in about a month that shows an estimate of how much federal money the project may qualify for before moving forward.

And Skelton said he would like to have another discussion about alternatives that would keep the cost of the airport closer to the $132 million the council talked about in 2004.

Council member Sue Schlapp said she can understand that construction costs have risen since 2004 and that planners want to over-budget the project in case of unforeseen changes.

She said that she's concerned about the fast-rising cost and that she wants to make sure that any fee increases caused by a new airport don't take away from the airfare reduction bill the Legislature passed this year to draw more fliers to Mid-Continent.

City officials and their hired consultants say Mid-Continent no longer complies with city codes, has roof problems, is not very accessible for people with disabilities and can't be expanded for increased security and more gates.

They also say the 51-year-old airport needs more space for ticketing, baggage claims and security checkpoints.

And they say the cooling and heating systems need to be replaced and several other amenities need upgrading.

"Our customers are miserable, our airlines are miserable," City Manager George Kolb said. "Something has to be done at that airport."

Costs will continue to rise, he said.

"I'm not sure any delay... is really going to be beneficial."

Reach Brent D. Wistrom at 268-6228 or [].