MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (WV News) — It has been a year of positive developments for the Morgantown Municipal Airport, with ribbon cutting ceremonies for everything from runway extension work to an art gallery.
The enormous empty lot behind the airport will serve two purposes, with the project seeing the city and county come together to share resources. The dirt used to fill the area needed for the runway extension will come from the plot that will become the I-68 Commerce Park. The city owns the area the runway will be on, and the county owns the Commerce Park property.
“We’re all working together to make all of this work,” said Sean Sikora, president of the Monongalia County Commission. “This is kind of the perfect project — they need the dirt to do the runway extension, and we need the dirt moved to create a commerce park.”
The runway extension project at the airport has been an idea for the last decade, with the physical work beginning last spring.
“I am really exited about the potential that exists there, with this project coming together,” City Manager Kim Haws said. “I know many have been holding their breath for a long time waiting for this to happen. It was a privilege for me to help make this come together.”
Jonathan Vrabel, airport director, said that the reason for extending the runway is largely a safety issue.
“Obviously, our runway is too short for much of the commercial traffic that is currently using it — it doesn’t give them a lot of safety margin,” Vrabel said.
“Any other aircraft that would like to use the airport, it’s not long enough for them either. The whole point here is to improve safety for our current users and for future users as well.”
The funding for the runway project comes from the FAA, which has given the airport almost $7.8 million. The project has been broken into phases over the next five years.
Phase one has been land clearing, moving 4.14 million cubic yards of dirt. The Morgantown City Council voted 7-0 to approve a $5,753,978.10 bid from Doss Enterprises, LC. to do the clearing. Of 15 bids received, Doss had the lowest, with the highest coming in at $10,707,922.50.
A huge benefit for the runway expansion, Vrabel noted, is to drive the economy.
“If we have corporations in the area that need to bring in a larger aircraft, and they’re unable to today, we will now allow that in the future with the extended runway,” Vrabel said. “Hopefully, by doing that, we will be able to entice more corporations now that need aviation to support their business.”
Vrabel gave examples of lost revenue streams in recent years being Mylan Pharmaceuticals and West Virginia University both not being able to use the Morgantown runway for their larger aircraft, and instead having to use nearby airports.
“That’s one thing that can hurt a local airport, and we’re trying to prevent that from ever happening again,” Vrabel said.
Phase two of the construction project was approved unanimously by the council, and will start around the beginning of November. Select Excavating received the contract from the city, at a cost of $2,347,080.
The next phase will consist of getting that rock separated and moved to build the foundation of the runway.
“There may be a shutdown over the winter, so we’ll really start off in the spring of next year, and then go all summer long,” Vrabel said. “Then we’ll have another phase that will be bid sometime next year.”
The airport is in the process of upgrading to their 15-year-old surveillance equipment. The airport currently has 24 cameras, and the new system will replace all 24 and add two additional cameras.
The purchase of the Verkada Security Camera Surveillance system will cost $46,547.70. The airport went through a cooperative purchasing agreement with OMNIA Partners, which saved more than $25,000.
“The great thing about the new system is that it’s an encrypted cloud-based system and the storage isn’t on our equipment to maintain, which is really nice and easy for us,” Vrabel said.
The increased technology is good for first responders, Vrabel added.
“If I was to have an incident at the airport, I can take a snapshot of that incident, create a link using my cell phone and send that to a responding officer, so he knows exactly what is happening,” Vrabel said. “This is really important if we have a shooting incident, we can see what’s happening so the police are going to know what to expect.”
Speaking of incidents, required by the FAA every three years, the airport conducted a disaster readiness drill earlier this spring, which included putting out fires from simulated plane and helicopter crashes. It was held on airport property near the National Guard Armory.
“This is the way to get all of our mutual aid providers together and make sure we’re working well, and if there are any issues,” Vrabel said. “This is a way to determine if we have any deficiencies, and how to fix those.”
Airport staff, police, fire, EMS, Mon County Emergency Management Agency, the 911 center, TSA, airline, and additional city and county agencies and organizations were all involved. After the event at the airport, the “victims” were transported to J.W. Ruby Memorial Hospital for a disaster simulation on their end.
Vrabel has been looking for ways to tie the community in with the airport.
“One of the things I’ve always loved to have in airports is art,” Vrabel said. “It’s a great way for the artists in our community to express themselves.”
What had been large, blank walls throughout the airport are now filled with works of art from locals.
“It’s a gallery that they can showcase their artwork, and a community can see it as they’re traveling,” Vrabel said. “It gives those folks that are traveling and using our facility, they see some great artwork, and can possibly purchase some from these wonderful artists.”
The works will be changed on a rotating basis, possibly four times per year. The next event will be in October, when the “Balloons Over Morgantown” hot air balloon festival begins, and many of the works will have a balloon theme.
“I’m looking forward to all these different events throughout the year, and we’re hoping it continues to grow and we get more and more art here displayed.”
The gallery is free to view at any point the airport is open, which Vrabel said is typically from 5 a.m. until midnight.
Most of the artists have contact information next to their artwork, and they can be reached directly about purchases.
“We just want folks to come visit the gallery, and use the airport and enjoy themselves while they’re using the airport,” Vrabel said.
More information about the airport’s runway extension and other updates can be found at futureofmgw.com.
Original Article: The State Journal