Sunday, September 28, 2014

Southern Illinois Airport (KMDH) is making strides to expand

Dustin Sievers, chief pilot and flight instructor at Southern Illinois Airport, performs a pre-flight check with Bob Smith on Friday in Carbondale. 
   Steve Matzker, The Southern 

MURPHYSBORO -- Southern Illinois Airport is right on schedule with a developmental plan presented last October to expand, an airport official said this week.

The plan, developed by Gruen Gruen and Associates from Chicago, outlines eight recommendations to the Southern Illinois Airport Authority, Jackson Growth Alliance and other community leaders on how to preserve and enhance the fiscal and economic health and vitality of the airport and the communities it serves, which includes SIU.

Relocating, realigning and reconstructing portions of the airport, including improving access to U.S. 51 and Illinois 13 in order to provide ample traffic capacity and better access were all major recommendations in the plan.

Investigating sources of state grants, incentives and financing, which would most likely require adding at least 20,000 square feet of hangar space to appeal to a wide range of potential users and compete with other airports, were also areas that airport leaders were suggested to keep in mind.

On Monday, Gov. Pat Quinn announced a $4.5 million investment to develop an Emergency and Critical Response Center at the airport. SI Airport Manager Gary Shafer said that was one of the recommendations in the plan.

Another project announced Monday by Congressman Bill Enyart, D-Belleville, was a $1.1 million U.S. Economic Development Administration grant, which will fund significant road improvements on the south side of the airport, Shafer said.

“The two recent announcements kind of checked the box on a couple of items for us,” Shafer said. “Those were two huge announcements for us.”

Shafer said a 50,000 square-foot hangar will be constructed between the existing Public Works Building and the National Guard facility at the airport. About 10,000 square feet of the hangar will be designated as a communications and command center for the Jackson County Emergency Management Agency, the Jackson County Ambulance Service and Memorial Hospital of Carbondale.

He said he is not sure when construction will begin on the new hangar but he would like to break ground in 2015. He said given the size of the project, it will probably be a year-long construction project.

Sam Goldman, former SIU chancellor and Jackson-Union Counties Regional Port District Board chairman, has called the announcement of the response center a “game changer.”

“Over the years, the airport has become kind of a storage center for emergency preparedness,” he said. “Memorial Hospital of Carbondale is there with supplies along with the (Little Egypt) Red Cross. That is what makes this such an ideal spot for the emergency unit -- because they already have a good beginning.”

He said the response center will keep Southern Illinois prepared if disaster strikes, such as the tornadoes that hit Brookport and Washington County last November.

“This is not to bring fear into the hearts of people,” Goldman said. “This is to be prepared.”

He said he has concerns about the implementation of the grant announced by Quinn and whether or not it will show the vision that is possible.

“If we use it wisely, and if we do what I think the vision outlined in the (developmental plan) is, it will become a major transportation center, not an airport,” he said. “If (Jackson County Airport Authority Board) does not see it that way, then we are in trouble.”

Goldman said the use of the new hangar needs to be serviceable for companies that want to come to Southern Illinois and use the airport for repairs or anything else.

“If the airport had a request for a company that wants to manufacture airplanes, but when they come down here and see a 30,000 square foot hangar, they are not interested,” he said. “They need a much bigger one than that. They need at least 50,000 square feet."

“To me, (the plan) is the road map, and the award we just got from the governor will be very significant,” Goldman said. “But there are other things that are very important that we need to get to.”

Shafer said there the third developmental project is a proposed medical marijuana cultivation center at the SI Airport.

He said there are three applicants who have applied for a license and, if approved by the state, a new facility will be constructed at the airport. There will only be 22 cultivation centers in the state, one for each state police district.

He said within the next five years the airport will have made significant progress on the developmental plan, if not all of it. No money has been spent as of Friday, but in 2015, the airport is estimated to spend $7.8 million on projects, Shafer said.

If the medical marijuana center is approval, those individuals, who were not identified, have estimated building costs to be about $5 to $7 million, he said.

Shafer said the airport is a development entity and many of the projects will bring jobs to Southern Illinois and to the Carbondale and Murphysboro area in particular.

“That is part of our responsibility as an airport developer,” he said. “That is one of the principal reasons, and the other is we are trying to enhance the opportunities here at the airport and the partnership with the university to encourage student development and retaining student here on the field that graduate with these terrific degrees."

“Part of our initiative is to attract enough industry here that we can retain some of the talent produced out of this university (SIU),” he said.

- Source:

A Cessna prepares to take off Friday at Southern Illinois Airport in Carbondale.

A Cessna 172 takes off Friday at Southern Illinois Airport in Carbondale.

Gov. Pat Quinn listens to Jeff Doherty, the Jackson Growth Alliance Executive Director, during a news conference Monday announcing a Regional Emergency Response Center at Southern Illinois Airport. The $4.5 million, 50,000 square-foot facility will consolidate the region's emergency medical and disaster response resources in a single location.

Gov. Pat Quinn announces a $4.5 million investment for a Regional Emergency Response Center on Tuesday at Southern Illinois Airport.

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