The first step in what will be a nearly $9 million renovation of the Great Bend Municipal Airport’s main north-south runway is now underway as engineering crews are at the facility doing preliminary work, airport Manager Martin Miller said.
For the next two weeks, the teams will drill and take core samples and survey for elevations, he said. This will determine design requirements for the runway.
The Great Bend City Council in July authorized Mayor Mike Allison to sign authorization for the design and bidding phase for the reconstruction of most of the airport’s runway 17/35, and to sign the pending Federal Aviation Administration grant offer covering most of the project cost.
The authorization is between the City of Great Bend and Burns and McDonnell of Wichita as the general contractor. The terms and scope are already approved by the FAA, which will pay 90 percent of the $546,840 fee covering the south 5,500 feet of the runway, leaving the city with a $64,644 bill.
However, airport Manager Martin Miller said the runway, which dates back to World War II, is 7,851 feet long. This makes it the longest landing strip in central Kansas and among the longest in the state.
In other words, this leaves 2,351 feet not covered by the FAA funding. So, the city will be responsible for 100 percent of the $9,960 lighting design and the estimated $132,000 reconstruction of the remainder, Miller said.
But, there may be some cost-saving options and there may also be Kansas Department of Transportation money available. This will make finishing off the runway cheaper, while still meeting stringent safety standards.
However, that is all down the road. The design and bid work has started , and the firm has 270 days to complete it, he said.
There will be a subsequent grant to cover the actual $8 million removal and replacement construction costs. The city will cover 10 percent, or $800,000, of that sometime next year.
After that, the city will finish up the rest of the runway.
Miller said portions of the runway will remain open throughout this multi-year project so the facility will still be functional, albeit not at full capacity. “It will be painful no matter what we do.”
Miller admitted this is a pricey endeavor. But, it is important to maintain the runway at its full length.
The long runway, Great Bend’s central location and low fuel prices here make the airport an ideal stop for cross-county pilots. This is especially true for the larger planes that require more room for their take-offs.
Now, Centerline Aviation (the fixed-base operator that sells fuel) pays the city about $26,000 per year, fuel taxes bring in about $17-20,000 annually for Great Bend and sales taxes generate another $2,3000. A lot of this might evaporate with a shorter runway and less traffic, Miller said.
In addition, aircraft, like the B-29 that flew in for the Air Show, could not use the airport with a reduced landing strip.
The city’s Airport Advisory Board endorsed this project.