By STEVEN SPEARS
(WARRENSBURG, Mo., digitalBURG) — The Max B. Swisher Skyhaven Airport may be getting several million dollars worth of improvements this summer at 10 percent of the cost to the university.
The UCM Board of Governors authorized the aviation department to pursue a nearly $7 million grant that would fund improvements to the airport’s runway, relocate the taxiway and demolish an existing terminal building. If awarded, the grant would pay for 90 percent of a $6.7 million project with the only direct cost to the university being around $700,000 in matching funds.
At a board of governors meeting Friday, Feb. 10, the board put the Vernon Kennedy Field replacement and improvements to three fire alarm systems on hold. The decision stemmed from a temporary halt on new capital projects in response to the recent cuts in state funding.
Moving the taxiway farther from the runway is estimated to cost $2.7 million, according to a project overview provided at the board of governors meeting. The Federal Aviation Administration recommends a separation of 400 feet between the taxiway and runway. Skyhaven’s current taxiway is located 200 feet from the runway, according to the overview.
The new taxiway would require the removal of the existing apron and the demolition of a terminal building that was closed in March 2016 after air quality tests revealed the presence of mold. The terminal must be demolished regardless of whether the university receives the grant, according to a proposal presented at the board of governors meeting.
Skyhaven’s main north/south runway has shown signs of cracking and breaking apart, according to the overview. Improvements would cost around $4 million.
Tony Monetti, executive director of aviation and the Skyhaven Airport, said the runway is still serviceable, but its condition brings up safety concerns. He said usual wear and tear as well as weather damage can cause cracking, leaving rocks and other debris on the runway.
“So when an airplane goes, it can scoop up one of these rocks and it can literally be catastrophic to the engine – and of course you need an engine to fly,” Monetti said. “We have to fix the runway and maintain it to a good condition so we can safely operate.”
Monetti said safety is the aviation department’s main priority and, despite recent budget cuts, the benefits of this project outweigh the cost to the university.
“What we have is a safety concern,” Monetti said. “In lieu of a lot of the fiscal constraints that have been placed upon us, this was an important decision. Our board of governors sided with safety for our students.”
The grant is provided by the FAA’s Airport Improvement Program administered though the Missouri Department of Transportation. Funding for the grant comes from airline ticket taxes, aviation fuel taxes, air cargo taxes and other taxes on aviation users, according to a fact sheet compiled for the board of governors meeting.
If the funding is approved, the university will begin project design in the spring and break ground this summer, according to a news release.