LUMBERTON — The state Aviation Division has awarded the Lumberton Regional Airport a $564,000 grant to build a new terminal building at the Lumberton Regional Airport.
The grant will pay half of the estimated $1.13 million construction cost for the proposed 4,500-square-foot building, according to Troy Gammon, the airport’s manager since March 2015. The remaining 50 percent of replacing the existing 1969 structure is being funded by the Robeson County Board of Commissioners and the Lumberton City Council at a cost of $228,000 each.
Although a prototype for terminals across the state when it was built in 1969, the building now faces the need for numerous repairs. Gammon said the building’s electrical system does not meet code, the roof leaks and none of the bathrooms comply with the American Disabilities Act. The building’s out-of-date plumbing is all cast iron and all but one window has been part of the building since it was built.
Renovating the building was considered, but Gammon said it would cost just as much to renovate as demolish the existing building and construct a new one.
“We wouldn’t get any state money if we just renovate the building,” Gammon said. ‘The state will only give money for new construction.”
According to Gammon, no design hasbeen selected and approved for the new building. He said three “concepts” have been submitted for review, including one by the architectural firm of Becker/Morgan Group — the same firm that designed the police station in Lumberton — and two by The Wilson Group, an architectural firm from Charlotte.
Gammon said he doesn’t know if it’s “realistic,” but he hopes the new terminal will be built and in operation by December 2017. That would require the existing building to be demolished in July, with terminal operations being housed in a temporary building for about six months, he said.
The manager refers to the airport as the “face” of Lumberton and Robeson County, and a tool that if used properly can be an asset in Robeson County’s quest to recruit new businesses and industries to bring jobs. What people see at the airport terminal, he said, can play a key role in how they make an initial assessment about the kind of business relationship they will have in Lumberton and Robeson County.
“The terminal will be the new gateway to Robeson County and Lumberton. It will be the first impression that many companies wanting to do business in Robeson County get,” he said. “It will give the impression that we removing forward and building the things we need.”
Robeson County Commissioner Tom Taylor, who is a member of the Lumberton Regional Airport Commission, says the construction of a new terminal is overdue.
“We need a new terminal. It’s a good selling point for our county,” Taylor said. “There’s a lot of folks that fly into the airport to do business here. The terminal is the first thing they see and they draw their first impression of the county from that.”
Greg Cummings, Robeson County’s economic developer and industrial recruiter, also said that the airport plays a vital part in selling the county as a place to do business. Cummings’ office is at the terminal so he will be getting a new office when the new building is complete.
“The airport is in our strategic plan for marketing,” he said. “The terminal has been here for more than 40 years so it’s time for a facelift. We have to bring the terminal up to date so that it can compete with other regional airports across the country.”
Lumberton Councilman Leroy Rising, a member of the Airport Commission, said that everyone on the commission is “very pleased and excited to have the opportunity to improve the airport.”
“We’re heading in the right direction,” he said. “This will make a huge difference in our economy … . This (a new terminal) is going to benefit not just Lumberton, but everyone in the area.”
The airport currently is used significantly by both commercial and small aircraft.
According to Gammon, over the course of a year, the airport averages between eight and 13 flights per day. There are accommodations for large business jets up to 90,000 pounds and a hangar for corporate jets wanting to stay over night. About 40 small aircraft are based at the airport, with hangar space available for up to 54 aircraft staying an extended time, Gammon said.
Bob Shiles can be reached at 910-416-5165.