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Construction begins on new Barnes Airport terminal

By Michelle Symington

MetroWest Reminder Assistant Editor

WESTFIELD After years of discussions about a new terminal at Westfield Barnes Airport the project has become a reality.

State, local and airport officials gathered at the airport last Thursday for a groundbreaking ceremony to celebrate the beginning of construction for the new terminal.

Officials gathered inside the current terminal for a press conference before heading outside to grab their shovels and move the dirt.

Christopher Willenborg, manager of Westfield Barnes Airport, said the current terminal was built in 1939.

"As you can see, this building has seen better days," he said.

Discussions about a new terminal have been going on among airport officials since the 1970s.

Willenborg said that it was a team effort between the mayor's office, governor's office, the Barnes Airport Commission, the Massachusetts Aeronautics Commission (MAC) and other city departments that made the project a reality.

"Together we moved the project from a feasibility study to the groundbreaking," he said.

The new terminal is funded through a $6 million state grant from the MAC, which will cover 95 percent of the project cost. The city was required to provide a 5 percent match to complete the project.

In addition to the $6 million grant, the MAC also funded the project design in 2004 with a $600,000 grant.

State Senator Michael Knapik (R-Westfield) and former State Representative Cele Hahn secured the $6 million earmark in a Transportation Bond Bill in 2002 for the terminal project.

The new terminal is expected to be completed in the Spring of 2007 and will include a restaurant, corporate flight services, administration offices and other offices and services.

Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey, who was a guest speaker at the ceremony, said there are a number of small airports that the state has aggressively invested in over the past several years. The state has spent $233 million to support aviation in cities and towns across the state, Healey said.

She said that she is pleased the state will be able to upgrade the 80-year-old facility in Westfield. She added that a new terminal will help open up the region and the economy.

"I am pleased to be a major part of this investment," she said.

Before speaking about the terminal, Knapik congratulated Willenborg.

"You have been the driving force in this," Knapik said, adding that the airport manager is "second to none. You worked very hard to bring this to fruition."

Knapik also said, although Boston is 120 miles from the airport, a new terminal is critical to the state's infrastructure and economy.

He said aviation plays an important role in the future of the workforce and the economy.

"This is something we're very proud of," he said, adding he is also proud to "see our tax dollars at work here."

Mayor Richard Sullivan said the city has had a great working relationship with the MAC. He explained that the MAC is responsible for making the terminal project as well as runway and other projects at the airport possible.

"Without their support, we would not be standing here," he said.

Sullivan also praised Willenborg for the job he has done as airport manager.

He said the Westfield Barnes Airport Commission "broke the mold" when they gave the job to Willenborg because the job had previously been given to someone with a military background.

He said Willenborg is the first manager of the airport with a business background.

Sullivan said the excitement is not just about a new terminal, but it is also about opportunity "the opportunity to see the airport grow and become an economic engine, not only in the city but in the region."

Although he could not name specific companies, he said he has seen an increase in the number of companies looking at Barnes for opportunities.

He added that the new terminal will offer the airport the opportunity to compete, create jobs and improve the economy in Westfield and the surrounding area.

Arthur Allen, chairman of the MAC, said, "This has been a long road."

He said that this has been a frugal administration and he had to bring officials to the airport terminal to show them how bad the building was before they would agree to fund the project.

He added that the administration is spending tax dollars "very wisely and very carefully."

Allen said a new terminal is important for the economy and for aviation.

He explained that rather than traveling to a large city for an airport, future travellers will be able to take a small passenger plane from a small local airport to their destination.

He said more six-passenger planes are being made for the future, which will make travel safer and more convenient.

Many City Councilors also attended the ceremony.