Government & Politics

Rehabbing KCI could cost about a third of the price of a new terminal, official says

The Kansas City Star

Rehabbing Kansas City International Airport’s three 42-year-old terminals would cost roughly a third what it would take to replace them with a new single terminal, a new estimate shows.

But after installing new utility lines, replacing elevators and making other basic repairs, KCI would still have key shortcomings, deputy aviation director Phil Muncy told the KCI Terminal Advisory Group on Tuesday.

Secure areas within the terminals would still be short on concessions and restrooms. Large aircraft such as the Boeing 757 would still have trouble maneuvering at the gates. And without adding close-in parking, spaces would still be in short supply sometimes.

For those reasons and others, Muncy opposes the bare-bones rehab plan that the advisory group ordered up for their review.

“I believe this city needs and is ready for a new terminal,” Muncy said after the nearly 90-minute presentation.

But opponents of the single-terminal plan saw the new numbers as bolstering their case. Improving the airport, they said, could be done for a whole lot less than building a new, $1.2 billion terminal.

“It certainly opens the door up,” said founder Kevin Koster. “It broadens the gap” between the cost of building new or fixing up the old.

Mayor Sly James formed the advisory group last May in response to critics, who said city aviation officials were rushing to build a new airport terminal without considering the costs in dollars or in preserving KCI’s convenience for travelers.

At least two groups have sprung up that support keeping the convenient “drive to your gate” configuration of multiple terminals.

Last fall, Muncy estimated that the cost of rehabbing the existing terminals at $500 million to $700 million.

This new report strips out some of the improvements contemplated in that earlier estimate, such as a people mover between terminals.

That brought the cost of what Muncy called “re-lifing” KCI to between $365 million and $460 million. And those figures would be lower by a third if only two terminals were rehabilitated, he said.

Terminal A was mothballed recently to cut operating costs, with all flight arrivals and departures centered at terminals B and C.

Advisory group co-chairman David Fowler said these new figures are “a baseline” that the group can refer to in deciding whether to support building a new terminal or rehabbing the old ones.

Were the rehab plan implemented, the airport wouldn’t look a lot different than it does now. It makes few changes from the floors to the ceilings, except that security partitions would be raised to the roof level.

There are 10-foot gaps now that the Transportation Security Administration wants closed. That would mean adding new air conditioning duct work, Muncy said, because the air vents are now only on the unsecured side of the gate holding areas.

Most of the rest of the work would occur below ground, replacing water, sewer, gas and electrical lines that were installed before the airport opened in 1972.

Excavating to get at those pipes would expose the foundation. Workers could then check for cracks and apply a sealer to protect the wall from water damage.

The plan also calls for replacing or rehabbing dozens of elevators and escalators in the terminals and garages, installing new bomb detection equipment to scan checked baggage and making improvements in the airfield’s system to collect deicing fluid.

The cost estimate breaks down this way:

• Airfield improvements: up to $180 million.

• Terminal fixes: up to $120 million.

• Roadways and parking garage work: up to $135 million.

• Central air conditioning plant: up to $25 million.

If they are rehabbed, Muncy said, the terminals would be worked on one at a time, with operations shifting to the other two until all are finished in 2020.

But he stressed that terminals A,B and C would not be like new at the final ribbon cutting. By then, the remodeling work done along their concourses in 2004 would be 16 years old, the heating boilers 20 years old and the garages ranging from 23 to 33 years old.

Fowler said the committee will weigh that option with two others at the group’s next meeting in mid-March. One alternative to explore, he said, might be building a central entry structure that would serve two terminals.

The panel is set to make a recommendation to the City Council in April.

Officials stress that KCI upgrades would be paid for by the airlines, passengers, tenants and other aviation funding.

All the same, stiff public opposition has formed to the notion of a new terminal.

In response to a petition drive, the City Council approved an ordinance requiring a public vote on any plan to demolish the current terminals and/or replace them with a new terminal.