Lanett airport expansion steadily progressing

Published 10:00 am Saturday, August 8, 2020

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LANETT — Some recent abundant sunshine and fair weather days have allowed for much progress to be made at the ongoing Lanett airport expansion. The 5,400-square-foot terminal that’s being built by River City Construction, Columbus, is approximately two-thirds finished. The roof is on, the windows in and all the brickwork done. In other words, it’s dried in.

A substantial amount of work has also been done at the nearby runway. The contractor, Evergreen Erosion Control of Opelika, has leveled a small, rolling hill between the terminal and runway allowing for an unobstructed view. Much grading has taken place on the opposite side of the now completed 4,400-foot section of the runway. It has been striped from one end to the other. What is no doubt the biggest number in Chambers County, “24,” is on the northeast end of the runway. That big white number painted on the black runway must be at least 40 feet tall. It’s of no significance to the layman but will tell any licensed pilot the degree of the runway. There will be a huge number 6 on the southwest side when the new 1,000-foot portion of the runway is finished in a couple of years.

What’s there right now is a marvelous piece of engineering. The guys from Goodwyn, Mills & Cawood, the project consultant, and Evergreen have done a first-rate job thus far. At the start of the project, there was a significant difference in elevation from one end of the 4,400-foot section to the other, but when drives across it today in a truck it seems absolutely level. It didn’t happen by accident. There are tiny grooves in the runway to quickly divert rainwater from the surface during inclement weather.

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Land clearing is now taking place on what will be the 1,000-foot extension. There are some problems to be overcome with this addition. A portion of a small stream will have to be relocated to avoid environmental issues, and some large culverts will have to be built on a portion of the runway. When the airport reopens, possibly in 2022, half of the runway will have a parallel taxiway extending to the terminal. Plans are to complete the other half in the coming years.

The taxiway will allow for some first-class, front door treatment. When a plane lands, it can taxi right up to the terminal, and passengers will have to walk only a few feet to be inside.

From 1924-1980, Lanett was widely known for its airplane-shaped school building. The new terminal will have a similar look. “It has an interesting architectural feature,” said Mayor Kyle McCoy. “The front door resembles the nose of a plane.”

Just inside the door is a huge lobby area. The visitor quickly notices that the building has two distinct sides. To the right will be the air travel side and to the left the Chambers County Development Authority (CCDA) side.To the right will be a pilot’s lounge, bathrooms, showers and closet space. Also on that side will be a kitchen area with a refrigerator, stove and vending machines.

On the left side of the building, CCDA Director Valerie Gray will have an office many people in her field would kill to have. It’s a large office with an impressive view of the airport. Anyone she’s talking to has to be most impressed with the set up and what’s going on in her town. The offices for Kimberly Carter and Chris Busby are really nice as well.

All eyes will be on what’s going on in Lanett next year. “This airport project will be the largest ongoing aviation project in Alabama in 2021,” said Mayor McCoy. “Senator Richard Shelby’s continual commitment to this is an important key to the future economic development in Chambers County. Since he has been working with us on this project we have gotten over $15 million in funding. It’s important to have good relationships with people who can help you like that. The development of this airport is a good thing not just for Lanett, Valley and West Point, it’s also good for all of Chambers County and the east Alabama region.”

When the new airport is in service, there’s a good chance it will serve as a primary backup site for the airport in Auburn. Lanett is a good bit closer to Auburn than Montgomery, which is Auburn University’s current backup site.

“Since our landing area will be longer than theirs,” jokes McCoy, “maybe they should be backing us up.”

The Auburn airport is currently around one mile in length. At 5,400 feet, the Lanett landing area will be some 120 feet longer than a mile.

“We are confident the terminal will be an impressive sight when people are landing,” McCoy said. “We are planning to have a big flagpole out front with a large American flag on it.”

There’s presently one large hangar that can hold up to four planes and 10 smaller T hangars at the airport. There’s lots of available space on the 378-acre site to build more. The long-range plan calls for a new road to exit Philips Road near the Hampton Inn and head toward the terminal.

Lanett city officials have been talking about expanding the airport for years. That long-sought dream will come to fruition within two years and will likely be something bigger and better than those early promoters thought possible.