Wednesday will mark the one-year anniversary of the groundbreaking ceremony held at the Chilton County Airport.
On Oct. 22, 2013, the ceremony highlighted planned infrastructure improvement projects including a new runway lighting system, a resurfaced runway, the installation of a new hangar housing 10 airplanes and the clearing of six parcels of land near U.S. Highway 145 extending the runway.
The project used $2.6 million in combined grants with the Federal Aviation Administration’s airport improvement program covering 90 percent of the cost, with Chilton County and the Alabama Department of Transportation’s Aeronautics Bureau to pay 5 percent each.
Now, a year after local officials dug ground from the area where many of the projects began, airport officials anticipate construction at the airport should end this week.
“I can’t believe it has been a year,” Billy Singleton with the Chilton County Airport Authority said. “At the end of the day, we got everything done. The thing I am most proud of is with all of these upgrades at the airport we were able to re-invest $1 million back into the economy, and that was before the first airplane ever touched down at the airport.”
This summer, two separate projects began as part of the airport’s expansion project which included a land acquisition grant where the airport purchased several homes located off and near Lay Dam Road to make full use of the airport’s runway.
The grant helped purchase six parcels along Highway 145, adjacent to the airport, providing a clearing path to extend the runway.
Airport representatives fielded complaints from residents regarding the vacant homes creating an eyesore for the community as they were left vacant for eight weeks.
During the time the homes were left vacant, different agencies including the Chilton County Sheriff’s Department, Clanton Fire Department and others utilized the homes for training purposes.
Part of the delay in the land acquisition project centered on a separate project to resurface the runway and add a lighting system providing additional lighting and upgrades to the current lighting that is more than 50 years old.
Contractors realized during the initial stages of the resurfacing project that existing surfaces would not hold up the foundation under the runway, which meant digging out the existing surfaces and replacing the foundation with a more solid material.
A grant for roughly $1.6 million was awarded to the airport in September 2013 from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) that would help upgrade the current lighting system at the airport.
In November, Singleton said airport officials will meet to discuss where the airport is, and where the airport is headed with the hopes of acquiring potential grants within the next year.
“When the FAA came to inspect us in September, they were overwhelmed,” Singleton said. “A lot of people have used the term ‘extreme makeover,’ and I think that really sums it up. When you look out and see how things look now compared to how they were, it is remarkable. The county worked with us to construct an additional hangar, and the city worked with us to install a jet fuel system and the FAA looks at that, and that weighs heavily on their allocation for future grants. They see a community and a county that is willing to invest in infrastructure and growth.”
Singleton is hopeful the extension to the airport’s runway could be finished within the next three years.
“We have an Airport Layout Plan which is our vision of what the airport will look like when everything is done,” Singleton said. “I expect we will see potential grants, which will help us further our Airport Layout Plan.” Singleton said all of the work completed at the airport up until now has largely been to “improve safety” with the hope of the airport becoming a “contributing member to the community.”
“I think we have made a huge leap in that direction in 2014,” Singleton said. “People haven’t fully appreciated what has happened until they come out and see it. We need to be an airport that creates an opportunity for critical aviation, and we feel we have a very specific role in this community.”
The airport was first dedicated on July 3, 1937, making it one of the oldest continuously operating airports in Alabama.
Projects completed this year are the first major improvement projects to the airport in the past 25 years.