Aspen airport expansion readies for take off | AspenTimes.com

Aspen airport expansion readies for take off

Pitkin County commissioners made a key decision Tuesday regarding the future of the airport by finalizing a short list of concepts for a new terminal.

The county and the firms it has enlisted for the airport expansion project now will move forward with the public scoping phase concerning the two terminal options selected by commissioners. Initial plans call for holding those meetings beginning in February.

Commissioners based their decision in large part on feedback collected through a series of community-outreach meetings and online comments dating back to February.

The county's airport layout plan reserves the right to build a terminal of up to 80,000 square feet, but officials have maintained that it won't be that large. However, if the terminal were to be expanded in the future, the process wouldn't require another federally mandated environmental assessment because the space has been approved. Also, if and when the terminal is built, staging areas for construction would fall within that envelope, officials said.

The terminal concepts approved lack details such as square footage and other specifics. Architectural renderings will be unveiled after the scoping period and environmental assessment, and they would require approval from the commissioners.

"Nothing is final until the very end, until you receive the last grants to build something," consultant Ryk Dunkelberg said. "We're not going down a path you can't change."

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The two terminal options emerged from four concepts scrutinized by community members.

One of the prevailing concepts is a hybrid version of the next-terminal concept and a two-story concept. The grade of the airport apron is driving the concepts, noted Commissioner Michael Owsley.

The hybrid concept includes a setback appearance to minimize the terminal's visibility from Highway 82, a major emphasis in community feedback.

The terminal's levels would be stacked flat to allow future expansion. The idea of having a rooftop restaurant also is being mulled.

The second concept is a split-level terminal that would include a gate-lounge area on the same level of the apron.

"Clearly this would have the highest visibility from the highway in any direction," said architect Brent Mather of Denver.

Community feedback showed opposition to a jet bridge, which links passengers to the terminal. Currently, commercial passengers walk outside and up the stairs of the aircraft. Commissioner Rachel Richards noted that while jet bridges might have a big-city airport feel, wheelchair-bound passengers and others with certain needs might feel degraded when assisted up the aircraft stairs. She also said the Americans With Disabilities Act could come into play, noting that a plan should be in place as the process moves forward.

Installing the jet bridges also would mean that the terminal building would need to be raised to accommodate them, Mather said.

Commissioners could ultimately decide to build a jet bridge, regardless of a majority of community feedback against it, Mather said.

The county in September approved an airport layout plan allowing for the construction of a terminal of up to 80,000 square feet, a runway upgrade to accommodate larger aircraft and new above-ground parking.

rcarroll@aspentimes.com