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New terminal proposal hopes to take off

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This decades-old Lebanon Municipal Airport terminal is in a safety zone and really should be torn down and replaced by a new, $2.25 million terminal, airport officials told the Lebanon City Council. JOHN BUTWELL / The Wilson Post

In effect, the Lebanon Airport Commission is asking the City of Lebanon to co-sign on a $2 million loan that could cost the city $50,000 per year to repay, but that the commission hopes to find other ways to repay instead.

The commission wants to make its dream come true of building a new, two-story terminal at the Lebanon Municipal Airport to replace the modest, one-story structure currently serving as the terminal, according to the commission's chair, T. O. Cragwall.

Speaking to the Lebanon City Council at a budget work session Thursday night, Cragwall said the terminal itself would cost an estimated $2.25 million, and an adjoining hangar would cost $600,000 - for an overall project cost of $2.85 million.

To finance that, the airport commission plans to put up $200,000 out of its own reserves and it can get another $650,000 in various state and federal aviation grants, Cragwall told the councilors.

$50k needed for $135k payment
That leaves $2 million to make up the difference, which would require annual payments of $135,000 - but if the city and commission get a $2 million loan or bond issue through the Tennessee Municipal League (TML), the commission could repay all but $50,000 per year through its revenues and renting out the second floor of the new terminal, Cragwall estimated.

Some government agency or private corporation is very likely to snatch up that available space for a $42,000 annual lease, the airport commission chair continued.

"That's $135,000 offset by revenue, and a $50,000 annual payment to make?" Ward 4 Councilor Bernie Ash inquired, and Cragwall replied, "That is correct."

However, "our hope is to come up with other entities to pay for it, without the city having to," Cragwall added.

For one thing, "we have contacted the county to see if they will join in," Mayor Philip Craighead said. "This is not just for Lebanon. This is for the region. If we want to provide these better-paying jobs, the airport is a key project we need to provide."

'Act now' while grants can be had
Furthermore, the time to act is while federal and state governments still have grants available, some of which only require a 5 or 10 percent local match, the mayor said.

"If we don't, in the coming years, these funds may not be available, and then it will be left on us to do it all," he said.

Cragwall agreed. "We want to move post-haste to get as much done as we can while we can get funding," he said, adding that building a new terminal has been a long-term goal of the airport commission.

"Mayor (Don) Fox said, you want a new building, you're going to have to pay for it," the commission chair recalled - yet "we see ourselves as one of the two departments in the city that can pay our own way, along with the Natural Gas Department," he continued. "We're proud of that. We're showing a cushion between proposed (operating) expenses and proposed revenues (for the upcoming fiscal year)."

$750k for hangars, too
The commission also is asking the city council to approve another project that will amount to an investment, because the revenues to pay for it are virtually guaranteed. Having started building 17 new T-hangars (so named because they're shaped like interlocking T's), the airport wants to add up to eight 60-by-60-foot hangars for pilots who prefer those dimensions.

The construction cost will be $750,000, but the hangars will be rented immediately, Cragwall promised. "We'll fill those the day we open," he said. "We'll still have a waiting list of 57 people, as I recall. That's staggering."

The commission hopes to start by building two or three 60-by-60's the first year, then complete the project as funds become available, he said. The new T-hangars are taking 17 pilots off the waiting list, but there still will be plenty of eager takers for space in the 60-by-60's, Cragwall added.

The new terminal won't generate as much income right away, but it also is a really urgent project, Airport Manager Heather Bay told the city council.

Replacing terminal is 'safety issue'
"Our existing terminal is in a safety zone, where there's not supposed to be anything at," Bay said. The silver lining is that the terminal's location in the zone may make a new terminal eligible for even more grant money than the airport commission has already identified, so the problem can be fixed, she added - "but it's not a guarantee."

That's one possible source of the needed $50,000 per year, in other words, Bay told the councilors at the work session.

Due to its location in a safety zone, "we're aware that most of the existing terminal will have to be torn down," Cragwall noted. Nor is the planned new terminal anything excessive, Bay said.

"This is not an extremely lavish facility," she said. "This is a building that meets the everyday needs of people who come in and out of our facility."

'Pilots love our airport'
Part of the reason the airport has such a long waiting list for hangars, Mayor Craighead also confided to the councilors, is that currently, "Gallatin Airport is shut down, and they came over here and they love our airport."

Due to paving projects, "Gallatin will be closed for three months," explained Bay, who also as the owner of Direct Flight Solutions is the Lebanon Airport's fixed-based operator, as well as its manager going on seven years now.

"That's forcing people out of their hangars (at Gallatin)," she added. Echoing the mayor, she exclaimed. "They've come from Gallatin, they've fallen in love with the Lebanon Airport, and they want to stay."

Plus, Nashville's John C. Tune Airport is about to close next, temporarily, for paving - and that also will increase the demand for hangars here, Bay said.

"I'm ecstatic about the terminal," she continued. "Our community really is in need of our Lebanon Airport matching the City of Lebanon's façade. The growth of our community is astonishing. Our operations have increased 25 percent each year for the past four years."

Bay commented, "It really tells you the economy is improving and that people are interested in coming to our community for a lot of business and a little pleasure."

Construction bids by fall?
The timetable for building the new terminal could be pretty speedy, Cragwall also said.

"As soon as we get approval from the city council," he said, the airport commission can "apply to the state, and seek a bid. Realistically, if we could make these things happen, we could bid it in mid to late fall."

That would make it possible to start construction as early as next spring, he added.

The council's work session Thursday was not a voting occasion, but no one spoke up against the terminal proposal when Mayor Craighead concluded Cragwall and Bay's presentation with the comment, "I hope everyone is supportive, because we need to move on this."

Plus, a few seconds later, City Finance Commissioner Robert Springer announced that he had received a text message from Ward 6 Councilor Kathy Warmath, who watched the opening minutes of the session on television.

"She's running late," Springer reported, "but she texted to say she's in full support."

Writer Connie Esh may be contacted at cewrites@yahoo.com.

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