New concepts unveiled for Aspen airport terminal
Area residents received a first look Thursday at two conceptual designs for a new $96 million terminal at the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport.
The unveiling at the Pitkin County Library represented the first step in an environmental assessment process that will take at least another four months to complete, said Airport Director John Kinney. Thursday’s meeting was about gaging public reaction to both the basic looks of the new terminal concepts as well as how the two designs will appear from different vantage points around the airport, like Owl Creek, McLain Flats and West Buttermilk roads, he said.
“This is a planning process, not a design process,” Kinney said.
What he means is that officials must settle on a particular design in order to be able to assess the environmental impacts of that design, said Pitkin County Manager Jon Peacock. Those other assessments will include noise, biological, socioeconomic, air-quality and water-resource impacts, among others, according to officials.
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In February 2015, Pitkin County offered the community four different design possibilities for the new terminal and asked residents to vote on them. The top two moved forward into the conceptual phase and were presented to residents and representatives from local media Thursday.
Officials plan to have consultants evaluate the environmental impacts of a 140,000-square-foot terminal, which is the largest it would be, Peacock said.
“In reality, would we go that large?” he said. “No.”
Among other considerations, financial constraints would play a large role in scaling the facility down from 140,000 square feet, Peacock said. However, the terminal will be a minimum of 80,000 square feet, he said. The airport’s current terminal encompasses about 47,000 square feet, Kinney said.
The first concept shown to residents Thursday is known as “The Ridge.” It would be a 11/2 story structure with a large, two-story entrance area and a smaller gate area upstairs. It features a lot of glass, which would provide views of the surrounding mountains and hills and has an open, airy feeling, Kinney said.
The second concept is called “The Pavilion,” and features a more standard, two-story design. Again, the entrance is downstairs and the gate area would be upstairs, with a wall of glass on the north side downstairs showing off the views and a glass wall upstairs showing off the vistas to the south. The concepts are both between 700 and 800 feet long, and about 23 feet high from the runway side and 43 feet high from the Highway 82 side.
The terminal necessitates an upper and lower level because the difference in grade between the runway and Highway 82 is 26 feet, Kinney said.
Officials offered comment cards to residents who attended the library meeting Thursday, asking them to rank the two designs from one to five on seven different criteria, including strong indoor-outdoor relationship, reflecting community vision, optimizing views, sustainable design, prioritizing the passenger experience, being a good neighbor and “build it once, build it right.”
“We’re getting out to the community early with these preliminary assessments,” Peacock said. “It’s about what is the look and feel (of the designs).”
Once officials settle on the basic design, the rest of the environmental assessments will occur this winter and are scheduled to be completed by February or March, Kinney said. After that, they will be sent to the Federal Aviation Administration, which will allow the public to comment on them for 30 days.
The FAA will then take 30 to 60 days after that to respond and issue their findings, he said. County officials will check in with FAA officials during those preceding time periods, so the findings are likely to approve the new building, Kinney said.
After that, Pitkin County commissioners must approve it before architects and designers are hired and the entire process essentially begins again, Kinney and Peacock said. As of now, officials hope a new terminal can be up and running by 2020, they said.
A new terminal is necessary for a number of reasons, Kinney and Peacock said.
The first is that the current crop of regional jets that now serve Aspen are being phased out of the national airplane fleet. Those jets have a maximum wingspan of 95 feet, though many in that classification don’t have the power to operate at Aspen’s altitude, Kinney said.
The new crop of regional jets, which are quieter and offer better fuel economy, have larger wingspans, which will force the airport to move and widen the runway, he said. The next largest classification of aircraft, known as Group 3 airplanes, feature wingspans as long as 118 feet, which also includes Boeing 737s, Kinney said.
Pitkin County and airport officials are unsure exactly which type of Group 3 aircraft will be able to fly into Aspen, though the FAA wants them to consider 737s in the planning phases of the project, Kinney and Peacock said.
Regardless, the runway will have to move 80 feet to the west to accommodate the greater wingspans, they said. It will also increase in width from 100 feet to 150 feet.
As far as the terminal goes, new standards in passenger safety and baggage inspection play into the need for a new building, Kinney and Peacock said. Also, the current airport has “passenger experience issues,” Peacock said.
“It’s not really a pleasant experience to hang out in this airport for more than two or three hours at a time,” Kinney said. “That becomes a problem when flights get canceled.”
So among other changes, officials want to be able to accommodate people who must spend the night in the airport because there are not available hotels or rental cars, Kinney said.
According to the latest estimates, the entire project will cost about $96 million, Peacock said.
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The Aspen City Council directed staff to work with restaurants and retail shops to find out how much interest there is in expanding into the public right-of-way. Use of interior space will be limited for an unknown time so businesses will be given the opportunity to use public right-of-way.