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Rendering by DH&W Architects / A rendering shows revamped space in the Chattanooga Airport passenger terminal as part of a $28 million expansion.

Chattanooga Airport officials, counting on an eventual return of passenger traffic to levels before the coronavirus pandemic, on Monday gave a thumbs up to the biggest-ever expansion to the terminal.

Work on the project, at a cost of $28 million, could start in April or May and take about two years to complete, said Terry Hart, the airport's chief executive, at a meeting of the Airport Authority.

"It will return," said Hart about passenger traffic as airports, airlines and travelers worldwide continue to face headwinds from the coronavirus. "It's the unknown of when. We're looking forward to seeing 2022 come along and see that rise."

Chattanooga Airport boardings soared 67% last year over coronavirus-stricken 2020, but traffic is still 30% off its record in 2019, he said.

J&J Contractors of Chattanooga won the construction contract for the $23.9 million in work at the terminal that will include adding three gates, another security checkpoint and more restrooms and concession space in the concourse as part of the overhaul.

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.

According to J&J, 26,000 square feet of new space will be added to the terminal and 36,000 square feet will be renovated.

Jim Hall, the Airport Authority's vice chair, at the meeting especially cited the addition of the gates to handle more aircraft and noted the airport is key to Chattanooga's economy.

Hall, who on Monday was elevated to chair the board, termed the airport "an economic engine" for the area.

Dan Jacobson, who stepped down as chair after 18 years and was chosen by the board to serve as vice chair, took note of the approval of the historic terminal expansion. He listed other projects over his years leading the board such as adding new nonstops, a solar farm and the recently completed airport parking garage.

To pay for 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.

The passenger facility charge also will pay for the loading bridges, he said.

Brent Collier of J&J Contractors, which offered the low bid for the project, said the company is trying to lock in the cost of construction materials as soon as possible. Building costs are sharply rising amid high demand and supply chain issues.

"We're confident about the bid," Collier told the board. "A lot of us have put in a lot of hours."

Authority member Mike Mallen raised the question and received assurances that price increases for materials in the future wouldn't come back on the airport.

"It's a strange time to be doing large projects," he said. "We want to make sure we don't assume the risk."

In addition, Hart said the builder hit a 10% goal of minority businesses participating in the expansion.

Ray Boaz of DH&W Architects told the board earlier that the concourse area past the checkpoint will receive "a nice open design." At the same time, Boaz said the airport would keep the existing design thread in the terminal.

The year 2020 ended six consecutive years of record boardings at the airport. In 2019, the airport saw a record 554,050 passengers climb into commercial aircraft, up nearly 10% over 2018.

Hart said the airport's master plan includes adding another security checkpoint and a few more gates in another phase if needed in the future.

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

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