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Rendering by DH&W Architects / A rendering of the expanded and revamped passenger terminal at Chattanooga Airport is shown.

Chattanooga Airport officials said a June start is set for the biggest-ever makeover of the passenger terminal as travelers begin to see signs of construction.

Work will go on for more than a year and a half at the airport in the $28 million project that will add 26,000 square feet to the terminal and renovate 36,000 square feet, according to the airport.

"We encourage people to get to the airport early," said Terry Hart, the airport's chief executive, in a telephone interview.

Hart said the expansion will include three new covered gates for planes to load and unload passengers. Also, the work will add capacity at the security checkpoint to better speed travelers to their flights, he said.

In addition, plans call for building new restrooms and concessions beyond the checkpoint as passengers await flights, Hart said.

"It will be a bigger amenity for customers," he said. "It will prepare the airport for growth."

On Monday, the airport posted figures for the first three months of 2022 that show boardings up 55.6% over the same period in 2021 as traveler demand climbed amid the easing pandemic.

Boardings of 90,383 passengers in the first quarter are still down 17.2% from the same period in 2019, when the airport reported a record number of fliers.

But the airport is seeking a $750,000 federal grant to help attract new service to Denver and points west.

Jim Hall, the Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport Authority chairman, said at a meeting of the panel Monday that he believes Lovell Field will receive a positive response.

"I think we have a good story to tell," he said.

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Staff Photo by Mike Pare / Chattanooga Airport is ready to undergo a $28 million, nearly two-year expansion starting in June. A May 27, 2021, photo shows passengers at the ticketing counter.

Concerning the terminal expansion, Hart said builder J&J Contractors of Chattanooga is starting to secure materials. Travelers may first see work on the exterior of the airport's signature dome area, he said.

Workers will dig foundations to hold steel for the new gates, and some areas around the current gift area inside the terminal may be closed off, Hart said.

"There's a little impact in the building," he said. "Not much initially. We'll have barriers and construction walls."

No existing gates are expected to be closed during construction, Hart said.

A bigger impact for passengers will come when the existing security checkpoint is temporarily relocated, he said, likely in the latter part of this year.

Relocating the checkpoint will take place all one night to not inconvenience travelers, Hart said.

"We'll still have two lanes," the airport CEO said.

When the expansion is complete, the airport will gain another lane and provide space for a fourth, he said.

Overall, Hart said he doesn't see a major impact to airport customers.

"We still have to operate," he said.

To pay for the construction of the expanded terminal, airport officials said they will use three funding sources. Some $12.5 million will come from federal grant money, Hart said. Also, the airport's passenger facility charge of $4.50 on every ticket will remain in place and provide about $8 million, he said. Also, about $3.5 million will come from airport coffers for the project, Hart said.

About $1 million was awarded to engineering consultant Allen & Hoshall to manage the project, and the Airport Authority is spending $3.1 million for three passenger loading bridges for the gates.

The passenger facility charge also will pay for the loading bridges, according to the airport.

Prior to the pandemic's start in 2020, the airport had posted six consecutive years of record boardings. In 2019, the airport saw a high of 554,050 passengers climb into commercial aircraft, up nearly 10% over 2018, figures show.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.

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