The Federal Aviation Administration awarded Gainesville Regional Airport a grant for almost $2.5 million to fund several projects on the airport’s 20-year master plan.
The airport hasn’t received any final estimates, so the grant amount could change when project costs are available, according to Laura Aguiar, public relations manager.
She said the funds are going toward designing a new emergency response building, renovating runway lights and expanding aircraft parking.
The aircraft rescue and firefighting building hasn’t been renovated since its construction in 1979.
”We consider firefighters some of our local heroes, and they really are in less-than-satisfactory digs,” she said. “Obviously it meets codes, but it needs to be replaced.”
The building’s design features an increase of 1,400 square feet – from 5,600 to 7,000 – for living space and training, along with equipment storage and maintenance.
A portion of the grant is for the building design, but its construction will require additional funds, Aguiar said.
Runway lights – frequent victims of corrosive weather and powerful lightning – are maintained more often.
Aside from regular maintenance, the lights are also receiving necessary replacements for parts such as rusted wire housings.
The apron – an expanse of asphalt used for aircraft parking – is being enlarged as part of the airport’s plans for westward expansion. In 2016, a grant request for the design of a terminal west is planned as part of the expansions.
Airport CEO Allan Penksa announced an update to the airport’s master plan in 2014 after years of increased passenger traffic, which continues to grow.
Aguiar said traffic increased 8 percent in April compared to April 2014.
Because of limited funds, the airport pushed plans for a new airport control tower to 2019, which is a year later than expected.
She said the airport is also looking for ways to fund a new parking lot, which creates a profit and therefore doesn’t qualify for federal grants.
Airport revenue makes up an annual budget of about $5 million that goes toward paying employees and operating facilities.
Federal grants are considered separate from the annual budget and fund 90 percent of improvement projects every year, which is about $4 to $5 million.
State grants usually account for an additional 5 percent, and facility charges – such as the fee applied to airline tickets, car rentals and cab permits – accounts for another 5 percent.
The FAA calendar makes different grants available on dates throughout the year. The airport keeps an eye on the calendar and merges several projects into each grant request.
The airport is also hoping to create new revenue by leasing the 40 acres of city land along its entrance road.
Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce, Enterprise Florida and Space Florida are working with the airport to attract new businesses, Aguiar said.
She said it’s important to continually improve the airport because, along with stimulating Gainesville’s economy and job force, it keeps commerce moving.
“Businesses here in Gainesville rely on the airport to get out the door and to the rest of the world in a timely fashion.”