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Governor funds new terminal

By Michelle Kealey

Staff Writer

WESTFIELD State Senator Michael Knapik (R-Westfield) and State Representative Donald Humason (R-Westfield) recently announced that Governor Mitt Romney's Capital Spending plan for Fiscal Year 2006 (FY06) includes funding for a new terminal building at Westfield Barnes Airport.

The estimated cost for a new terminal building is $6 million, $4 million of which is included in Romney's FY06 spending plan. An additional $2 million would be needed in FY07 to complete the project.

Romney's FY06 Capital Spending plan includes $1.289 billion, which will be used for projects in areas such as higher education, road and bridge construction and public safety.

According to Christopher Willenborg, airport manager at Westfield Barnes Airport, various airport managers and commissions have been wanting to build a new terminal since the 1970s.

He explained that the current facility was built in 1939 and it does not meet today's building codes.

He added that there are issues of Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance and the functionality of the building.

Willenborg said that airport officials began to approach the Massachusetts Aeronautics Commission (MAC), the state senator and state representative to gain support for the project in 2000.

Knapik and former State Representative Cele Hahn secured a $6 million earmark for the project in a Transportation Bond Bill in 2002.

Although the funding is included in Romney's Capital Spending plan, Knapik said that the grant still needs to be approved by the MAC.

Willenborg said that the airport has had "excellent support" from the MAC and once the construction costs are submitted to the Commission, the five members will vote whether or not to award the grant during one of their monthly meetings.

The grant will cover 95 percent of the project, according to Willenborg.

He said that progress on the project has already been made with the completion of the design of the new building, which was funded by a $600,000 grant that was awarded to the airport last September.

He explained that the new terminal includes much more space that the current facility.

"Space is the biggest item," he said, adding that the current terminal building is 8,500 square feet and the new terminal building will be 17,000 square feet.

He explained that the current facility does not have an adequate pilot facility, flight plan area, weather briefing room and does not have an area where pilots and passengers can access the Internet which will all be part of the new terminal in addition to an observation deck and conference room. Although the current building offers both aviation and non-aviation space for rent, the new terminal will offer more rental space.

Willenborg also said that the new terminal will include a restaurant, which will build up the restaurant area with its own design.

Although the design plans for the new terminal building have been completed, Willenborg said that there are still a few steps that need to be completed before construction can begin.

He said that the plans need to go before the Planning Board, which he said will be done in August, go out to bid and the airport needs to receive the grant from the MAC.

He projects that construction may begin in late fall of this year or early spring 2006.

The new building will be built about 500 feet from the current terminal. Once the building is completed and all of the offices move, the old facility will be torn down.

Willenborg said that the project should take about one year once construction begins.

He added that the $6 million was broken down to $4 million in FY06 and $2 million in FY07 because the project will take place during both fiscal years.

A project cost estimation was recently completed to make sure the numbers were still in line, and Willenborg said that the costs will depend on the bidding process.

He added that he "feels comfortable" that the project will be completed within the $6 million estimate.

"We're very excited about getting a new building here to serve the aviation community and the general public here in the region," he said.

Willenborg explained that the airport "certainly plays an important role in regional air space and aviation."

He said that the airport has excellent infrastructure with a 9,000 square foot runway.

He added that having the 104th Fighter Wing at Barnes Air National Guard Base, which uses the airport, is an important component that provides a "nice mix of military and civilian operations here."

Westfield Barnes Airport is a "major economic engine," which has $48 million a year in economic impact on the region and has 650 full-time jobs, according to Willenborg.

He also explained that the airport is utilized by a number of people, such as recreation pilots, flight schools, military, law enforcement and medical personnel, and business executives. The airport also has maintenance repair facilities in which aircrafts are maintained and flight checks are performed.

When Knapik announced the funding, he said, "This is certainly an exciting day. We ran into several bumps along the way but together we were able to present a strong case centered on the importance of this new facility to the continued economic vitality of this airport and the entire Westfield region."

He also said that the current building "does not contain proper facilities often required by corporate leaders and the new facility will "allow the city to offer industry leaders a modern facility for the 21st century."

Humason said, "Over the past two years Senator Knapik and I have worked hard to communicate the importance of this project with the Romney Administration. This news, combined with the positive news we received relative to the strong position of the 104th Fighter Wing in the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Commission report earlier this spring, serves as a reinforcement of the economic potential the City can reap with this important resource."