Progress smokin' on station

Posted: Monday, June 17, 2002

After two years of construction, the new fire station and warm storage building at Kenai Municipal Airport is nearing completion, much to the delight of airport staff.

"It's on time and on budget," said Airport Manager Rebecca Cronkhite. "We've been very happy with the project, and we think it's a really great addition to the airport and to the city."

The facility is an airport rescue and fire fighting and snow removal equipment (ARFF-SRE) facility, to use Federal Aviation Administration terminology, but will be dubbed the Airport Operations Facility.

Structural work on the 20,000-square-foot building has been completed, Cronkhite said. All that remains to be done is finishing work, like communications wiring, paving the parking lot, landscaping, installing cabinets, etc. City inspections of the building will begin this month, and airport staff expects to occupy the building by Aug. 1.

The facility will serve a number of purposes for the airport and help it meet FAA regulations. The airport's two ARFF vehicles will be relocated from the Kenai Fire Department to the new building and a firefighter will be stationed at the facility at all times.

The FAA requires an airport to be able to get a fire truck and water to the center of the runway within three minutes of an alarm. Traffic on Willow Street and poor driving conditions in the winter make it difficult to meet that regulation when the truck comes from the fire station, Cronkhite said. With the equipment and personnel on-site, it will be much easier to respond in an emergency situation.

The airport's snow removal and maintenance equipment will be stored in the facility, along with sand used for traction on the runway. In the past, this equipment had to be brought back and forth from the city shop.

Another amenity for the airport is the large, interior wash bay the airport staff can use to clean its equipment. The Environmental Protection Agency prohibits the airport from cleaning off oily equipment outside where the oil would seep into the ground. The wash bay will allow the airport to clean its equipment and properly dispose of the dirty water in compliance with regulations.

"This is huge," Cronkhite said. "We actually have a place to store equipment inside, right there at the airport for a quick response. And obviously it's a nice place to work -- there's training rooms for equipment operators and fire-fighting staff, and storage rooms for stuff we have had scattered all over the airport, like filters for building air handlers and other equipment. It's great."

Construction of the facility, located across Willow Street from the Kenai Animal Shelter, began two years ago. The architectural firm hired for the project is from Anchorage, but area firms Klauder and Company and Wince-Corthell-Bryson were involved in the design and engineering of the facility, Cronkhite said. The contractor for the project was G & S Construction, which used several area sub-contractors.

"It's a great project for the city of Kenai because it provided work for many local contractors," Cronkhite said. "It has just been an outstanding project. It has gone very smoothly."

The price tag for the new facility is $4.9 million. Approximately 94 percent of that cost was paid for by money from the FAA. The other 6 percent was paid for by the city of Kenai.

The FAA funding came in two forms, entitlement funds and discretionary money. Most of the project was paid for through entitlement funds, which the FAA distributes through Airport Improvement Projects grants. Every year, the FAA allocates a certain amount of money to each airport based on the number of passengers it serves. Airports that have have a large amount of passengers are entitled to more money, and vice versa. The Kenai airport essentially saved its entitlement money for three years and used the lump sum for the Airport Operations Facility.

Cronkhite also applied for FAA discretionary grant money and received about $1.8 million for the project. The FAA prioritizes grant requests for discretionary funds on the basis of safety needs, so a project that would allow fire-fighting equipment to be housed on-site got the Kenai airport the money.

Once the project is complete, it will cost the airport an estimated $60,000 a year in utility and maintenance costs. The airport will pay for the additional costs by cutting its budget and using money from its reserve fund, Cronkhite said.

The facility won't be an open building that the public will have access to, but a ribbon-cutting ceremony is in the works for early August, she said. Anyone interested in inspecting the latest addition to the airport will have a chance to do so then.

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