Bracketed by city manager Rorie Watt, left, and former Juneau Mayor Merrill Sanford, right, Juneau Airport Board chairman Joe Heueisen examines a ceremonial "gold" nugget given as a souvenir Thursday at the groundbreaking for the new Juneau International Airport Snow Removal Equipment Facility.

Bracketed by city manager Rorie Watt, left, and former Juneau Mayor Merrill Sanford, right, Juneau Airport Board chairman Joe Heueisen examines a ceremonial "gold" nugget given as a souvenir Thursday at the groundbreaking for the new Juneau International Airport Snow Removal Equipment Facility.

Juneau airport breaks ground on new snow-equipment garage

Look out the window and it’s hard to believe, but snow is coming. It won’t arrive tomorrow, but it will eventually arrive.

On Thursday morning, city officials and airport employees held a ceremony celebrating a new building that will help Juneau International Airport prepare for that day.

The airport’s new Snow Removal Equipment Facility is intended to replace a worn building from 1962 that houses the equipment that keeps the airport running when snow flies.

“The priority now is to get this building up, then get new equipment,” said airport architect Catherine Fritz.

The new building has been in the works for about 25 years, said Patty Wahto, the airport’s manager.

Its $20 million cost is almost entirely paid for by the federal government. Planning and site work cost about $4 million. Construction of the new building — which will be built by Anchorage’s F&W Construction Company — will cost about $15.5 million.

According to project documents supplied to the airport’s board of directors, about $14.4 million of the building’s cost will come from the Federal Aviation Administration. The remaining $1.1 million is split between local funds and money from the state of Alaska.

The airport operates under an enterprise fund separate from the ordinary budget of the City and Borough of Juneau — maintenance and upkeep is paid through airport fees.

Robby Capps of F&W Construction said site work and concrete work will begin between Oct. 15 and 20. The building is located close to the airport’s dike trail, popular with dog-walkers, birdwatchers and hikers, and those spectators should have a good view as the work progresses.

Once winter sets in, Capps said, work will pause until February, and when steel work begins in March, it will be extremely noticeable.

The new building is needed, airport officials say, because the existing storage building is too small to hold the airport’s equipment, and new equipment tends to be larger. That requires more space.

The airport has already run into that problem with its new fire engine, which arrived earlier this year and is being stored outside until the airport fire station finishes expanding its equipment bay. Demolition of the existing bay began on the same day as groundbreaking for the new snow-equipment shed.

When winter arrives, the new fire engine will go into storage to protect it from the conditions.

Snow-removal equipment is already being stored outside, causing maintenance problems and other difficulties. Because FAA grants pay for much of the equipment used at the airport, the FAA has standards for the upkeep of that equipment. One of those standards states that “airport operators should … maintain a 40ºF temperature in the equipment service area.”

The snow-equipment shed had been planned for a site across Egan Drive from Fred Meyer, but it was moved late in the planning process when air carriers expressed an interest in leasing that spot for their own uses.

Seeing a way to make money, the airport changed its plans and put the snow-equipment shed next to the dike trail.

Construction is expected to finish by Dec. 1, 2017, but airport administrators envision it as only the first stage in a series of improvement projects designed to replace outdated facilities. As money becomes available, maintenance sheds and storage for sand and chemicals will be built next to the new snow-equipment facility.

• Contact reporter James Brooks at 523-2258 or james.k.brooks@juneauempire.com.

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