Sunday, August 27, 2017

Quinter, Gove County, Kansas: Project aims sky high

ISSUE: The town of Quinter was without reliable air service for locals and during emergency situations.

LOCAL IMPACT: A nearly $4 million project will aid the Gove County town while providing additional life-saving assistance.

QUINTER — From the newly finished blacktop road, the large concrete slabs and parking area surrounded by a cornfield might not look like much. But a bit further in is a 4,000-foot runway that will enable air service in Gove County for the first time — and possibly help save lives.

The approximately $4 million airport project began as a community initiative due to a need for air ambulance service. The fundraising and construction is organized by the Gove County Healthcare Endowment Foundation, but the community has been supportive, said Carol Kinderknecht, executive director of the foundation.

“The nice thing about this project, when we had our town hall meetings, the turnouts that we had and people were so in favor of it,” Kinderknecht said.

The project was made possible by a mix of public and private contributions, most notably $2.7 million in grants from the Kansas Department of Transportation’s aviation division. The foundation is obligated by the state to own the airport for 10 years and must ensure it is available for public use.

And for trauma patients needing urgent care, the airport literally could help make the difference between life and death, said Coleen Tummons, CEO of Gove County Medical Center.

The airport will enable the county to accommodate air ambulance service, which is a faster way to transport critical patients to a larger medical center. Currently, patients must be transported by ground to WaKeeney or Oakley to access air service.

The Gove County hospital also delivers babies, which is another important consideration. Babies who are born premature or having significant health concerns after birth often require air ambulance services.

“It’s very important,” Tummons said. “Time is a huge factor when you have someone’s life on the line.”

The hospital does have a helicopter pad, but that service is not able to operate if wind speeds are too high. It’s also risky for a pilot to make the long trip to and from Quinter, as there is no place nearby to refuel, she said.

The new airport also will offer a fueling station and a place for helicopters to land.

The airport project had been in the works since 2011, when KDOT Aviation identified Gove County as one of only five counties in the state that was underserved regarding air transportation access. There was a gap of 60 miles between WaKeeney and Oakley from east to west, and a gap of 65 miles between Hoxie and Dighton from north to south.

The need for an airport, however, first was identified by the endowment foundation in the 1990s.

“We knew it was going to cost so much,” Kinderknecht said. “We didn’t know where to start or where to begin. And finally it resurrected again 22 years later, with it being finished now.”

Gove County has a population of approximately 2,900 people and covers approximately 1,072 square miles.

In addition to air ambulance services, the new airport will make it possible for medical specialists to fly in and out of Quinter to provide services. Air access also is beneficial to economic development, and the airport can be used by aerial spraying services and residents with private aircraft.

The airport is approximately 1 mile south of Quinter and sits along a blacktop road provided by Gove County.

While the land has been purchased and the concrete poured, fundraising is continuing for final details such as GPS instrument outfitting, lighting, entry signs and a possible pilots’ building. Hangars also will be constructed by residents needing a place to store their aircraft.

Organizers are hoping to get another grant, and private donations are welcome and tax-deductible. An estimated $600,000 is needed. For more information or to donate, contact the endowment foundation at (785) 754-3740.

The endowment foundation already has raised approximately $300,000 for the airport design, water well, electrical lines and zoning. The trustees are hoping to raise the needed money without the project becoming a burden for county taxpayers, Kinderknecht said.

It’s not yet clear when the airport will open, as government approval will be needed after the remaining details are completed.

“The endowment has done a wonderful job coordinating all of this,” Tummons said. “I know it’s a tremendously big project they’ve undertaken.”

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