Walking off a commercial plane at Range Regional Airport (RRA) just became a whole new experience.
Instead of trekking across the apron, a passenger now steps on to a passenger boarding bridge and into a new, state-of-the-art terminal.
And, hopefully, it feels like home.
“The project was long overdue and now supports the region’s air travel and future growth,” said Shaun Germolus, executive director of the Chisholm-Hibbing Airport Authority (CHAA), which governs RRA.
“Many local materials and local labor was used for this project with the hope that it will represent and feel like home to Minnesota’s Iron Rangers. It will also welcome our visitors to the Iron Range and leave a good first impression as they arrive.”
RRA hosted an open house for the public Saturday to showcase the expanded terminal. A business event was held earlier this month for area executives.
Feedback from visitors has been positive, and comments have been mainly on the uniqueness and beauty of the facility. The word most often used is “amazing,” said Germolus.
Some had to pinch themselves as a reality check. Yes, this is in Hibbing.
“The design team emphasized a look and feel of northern Minnesota and the Iron Range region,” explained Germolus. “This was accomplished by using local materials, such as the stone from local mining pits, exposing steel columns and metallic wall tile and, of course, reintroducing the bears and moose near the stone fireplace.”
Additional popular comments are on the new additions of a passenger boarding bridge and a luggage carousel. The passenger boarding bridge means passengers no longer ground board across a ramp and climb aircraft stairs in inclement weather. A luggage carousel can accommodate several passengers at one time and means suitcases will no longer be piled up outside.
Another major plus is the facility’s expanded space. It is approximately 21,000 square feet and can accommodate 110-plus passengers at one time. The prior facility was only 8,900 square feet and had room for only 35 passenger seats in the security area.
The new terminal should also be more efficient, with programmable lighting and in-slab floor heat to help save on utility expenses.
“Our region now has an airport terminal we can be proud of, and it’s ready to meet the needs of 21st century air travelers,” said Terry Samsa, CHAA director.
He said it was possible only with the cooperation of Chisholm and Hibbing directors working together toward this goal.
“Our airport has quality management and staff who worked tirelessly to make this happen, and great support from local lawmakers and the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation (IRRRB),” Samsa added. “I hope the folks here on the Range will see this as having been a worthwhile project.”
The cost of the terminal building is $11.6 million, and remains on budget, according to Germolus. It is phase III of an $18 million expansion. Phases I and II were the fuel farm relocation and taxiway A reconstruction. Terminal apron reconstruction is slated to be done next.
Funding sources for the overall expansion include $11.1 million in Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) funding, $5 million in state bonding, just more than $1 million from Minnesota Department of Transportation’s Office of Aeronautics, $400,000 from IRRRB, and $422,565 from the CHAA’s coffers.
The concept study and funding plan began in 2011. The terminal was designed and bids opened in June 2014.
The temporary terminal was established in the airport’s past maintenance garage and began processing passengers on Aug. 26, 2014.
The actual moves to the temporary terminal and returning to the new terminal were most impressive during this project, said Germolus.
“The airline, TSA, contractors and airport staff put in 12- to 14-hour days for each move,” he said. “Leading up to those days, strategic coordination on everyone’s part ensured the pieces were all in place to make the moves successful.”
Data, communication and electrical connections were of the utmost concern.
“Amazingly, both moves went without a glitch and the transition was seamless for the traveling public,” he said.
The former terminal was demolished the first few days in October 2014, and new construction commenced. The CHAA contracted with Max Gray Construction as its “construction manager at risk,” which meant the firm would be the prime contractor and oversee the sub-contractors.
“This provided an efficient way for managing the project,” said Germolus. “The contractors all worked well and kept the project on schedule.”
Not even the cold deterred the project. Germolus mentioned the efforts of Northern Industrial Erectors (NIE), the subcontractor who erected the steel framing.
“They did so December through February in very cold weather, and lost only six days of work when temperatures were 20 degrees below zero and the equipment would not cooperate,” he said. “NIE’s efforts were significant in keeping the project on schedule.”
The new terminal was officially dedicated on Dec. 2, and the move from the temporary terminal to the new facility was Wednesday. Hibbing native Erik Timpane, a captain with SkyWest Airlines, was the pilot of the first departure from the new terminal on Thursday.
The project overall was very successful, said Germolus, and he thanks the traveling public who continued to show strong support during the project. He was concerned that usage may decrease during construction, but passenger boardings are up 4 percent over last year.