Feb. 16--For most of the past 41 years, quiet has eluded Lowell Hampton.
With Orlando International Airport's western runways just two miles south of his backyard, he has lived with the vibrations, high-pitched whistles and booming groans of airplanes that fly directly over his Conway home.
"If the wind is right, they come right over this house," said Hampton, 71, who moved to the neighborhood in 1964. "You can almost see the treads on the tires."
Less than a block away at Shenandoah Elementary School, some teachers have taken to using a microphone system in class to keep their voices from being drowned out by the jets that frequently zoom overhead.
"If you are outside, conversation has to stop," Shenandoah Principal Jan Weems said. "You can't hear someone standing right next to you."
Though new federal regulations have quieted jet engines in recent years, the neighborhood hasn't gotten much relief as Orlando International has grown into the busiest airport in the state with more than 34 million passengers last year.
But long-awaited relief should come in the form of $1.1 million worth of construction contracts approved Wednesday by the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority, which controls Orlando International and Orlando Executive airports.
The contracts set in motion a plan to muffle the noise at Hampton's home and those of 23 of his neighbors on Southmore Drive, a street of small, concrete-block homes built in the 1950s.
The school, built in 1969, may receive similar treatment of new doors, windows and other enhancements, pending an agreement with the Orange County School Board.
Noise meters stationed in the neighborhood and just outside the school are expected to show at least a 5-decibel decrease in sound when the upgrades are complete.
A normal conversation between two people measures about 60 decibels.
A plane taking off measures about 140 decibels.
Reducing the noise is an expensive undertaking, but Orlando International has received more than $7 million in grant money from the Federal Aviation Administration since 2002 for noise-reduction programs, according to the FAA.
Grants from the Florida Department of Transportation also are being used.
The construction will include replacing doors and windows in the homes as well as adding attic insulation and central air-conditioning systems. The work is expected to begin next month and take roughly a year to complete.
The improvements typically yield "pretty good results," said Rusty Chapman, manager of the FAA's airports division.
The program was first announced in Orlando more than two years ago but was delayed after an audit and other pre-construction work.
David Evertsen, who has lived in the Conway area since 1971 and is president of the Parent Teacher Association for Shenandoah Elementary, said he has grown accustomed to the planes.
"I actually got freaked out after 9-11 when they weren't taking off," he said.
Beth Kassab can be reached at [email protected] or 407-420-5448.