AFTER almost a decade of discussion and four years of planning, the first arrivals will check-in at the new Mount Gambier Regional Airport terminal next week.
Few people will be happier than long-time employee and current airport manager Ian Fritsch, who has worked on the proposed development since its inception, to see the first stage of the $9.2m upgrade open for business.
“Talk on this project started around nine years ago,” he said.
“I worked here for 20 years as an aircraft engineer and in that time, I think some street lights were installed and they built the new terminal, but there were no upgrades beyond those.
“When I took over the airport manager role, a bloke from Western Australia who had a big jet called up and wanted to come to Mount Gambier.
“I told him he would not be able to land because he would damage the runway and he told me he would take his money somewhere else.
“I thought right – we have got to upgrade this.
“We overloaded the runway about six or seven years ago and made it stronger so we can get big jets in there.”
In 2016, the Weatherill Government pledged almost $3m towards the upgrade of the Mount Gambier Airport, committing a further $1m the next year to bring the State Government’s total contribution to $4m.
In 2017, Grant District Council sought Federal Government funding for the airport but was unsuccessful in its application to the Building Better Regions Fund.
The terminal upgrade was not included in the initial application, while an estimated $3.5m for runway strengthening was also excluded from the plan.
A revised proposal including a $500,000 contribution from Mount Gambier City Council was submitted, but was also unsuccessful.
On its third attempt, council received $3.5m under the Building Better Regions Fund to progress the project, accompanying a $4m State Government contribution, $1.1m from Grant District Council and $500,000 from Mount Gambier City Council.
Construction on the upgrade started in May 2019, with Heenan Earthworks undertaking works on the 120-metre expansion to runway 18/36 and the construction of a new heavy aircraft apron.
The apron and runway works were completed in October last year and construction on the terminal started the following month.
Designed by Ashley Halliday Architects and constructed by Kennett Builders, Mr Fritsch said the new terminal was a bold demonstration of modern architectural thinking which supported high-level functionality and compliance.
“Ashley Halliday have experience in the Kangaroo Island terminal, which was one of 12 finalists in the World Architecture Festival Transport Award and have been fantastic,” Mr Fritsch said.
“They really took on the brief that this is a regional airport and we are trying to cater for the whole region, not just Mount Gambier.
“Kennett Builders have done an amazing job and we are really excited to get to this point in the view of the impediments COVID-19 has caused us.
“We had over 90pc of local tradespeople work on this project which is great and helps the economy.”
The development has been constructed within the existing footprint of the terminal building and incorporates some vacant land, increasing the floor size to 1060sqm.
The interior design features a central, open entrance hall that facilitates movement between arrivals and departures, along with the associated areas for check-in, cafe, seating and hire car bookings.
Using local elements as colour palette inspiration, the design includes ashlar limestone cladding, black and white interlocking panel roofing, radial timber silver-top ash cladding and featured element using local timber.
A large circular skylight sits over the main entrance to provide natural light and symbolises the sinkholes found in the Limestone Coast region.
Mr Fritsch praised the efforts of past and present staff – notably former Grant chief executive Trevor Smart, deputy chief executive Jane Fetherstonhaugh, community development coordinator Jayne Miller and former council asset management coordinator Steph McIntosh in helping the project.
“Trevor Smart did a lot of work on the project and what we could afford and what would be achievable,” he said.
“They say behind every man is a good woman, but I have had three of them.
“Jane, Jayne and Steph have been outstanding and were the real heartbeat of this whole project.
“They got behind it and supported it the entire way.”
Member for Mount Gambier Troy Bell, who toured the airport with Premier Steven Marshall last week, said he was impressed by the work completed so far.
“The upgrade has been long awaited and much anticipated and considering the airport is the gateway to our greater Limestone Coast region, this is $4m of State Government funds well spent,” he said.
“Although air travel has been heavily impacted by the pandemic, it is great to see this project supporting regional jobs and the site busy with local contractors.
“Post pandemic, the airport will play a major role in our economic recovery and will help support our tourism, business and industry sectors in the future.”