Jeannette Rankin Airport? Missoula board to consider congresswoman for new passenger terminal

Crews continue work on the first phase of the new passenger terminal at Missoula International Airport on Tuesday. The new $70 million terminal could bear the name Jeannette Rankin if it’s approved by the board later this year. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current).

The new passenger terminal at Missoula International Airport will start gaining its vertical dimensions in the coming weeks, a phase of the project that’s running well below budget.

As work begins, the Missoula County Airport Authority will consider naming the $70 million terminal after Jeannette Rankin, a former Republican lawmaker from Missoula who was the first woman ever elected to Congress.

The naming could happen this year, coinciding with the 100th anniversary of the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution granting women the right to vote.

Airport Director Cris Jensen said the idea has the backing of Sen. Jon Tester.

“Earlier this week, they called and asked if we would have any interest in naming the airport after Jeannette Rankin,” Jensen said Wednesday. “The terminal building itself wouldn’t be open, but the announcement could happen any time in 2019.”

While some would like to see the airport named after Rankin, such as Reagan, LaGuardia or Logan international airports, the facility already bears the name Johnson-Bell Field.

But the terminal building could carry Rankin’s name if the board approves the move. It will consider its options over the coming month and could make it official in August or September.

Airport director Cris Jensen, center, and members of the Missoula County Airport Authority met Tuesday with architects to sample materials and finishes planned for the new passenger terminal. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

“We already have the airfield named after two individuals who were significant to their airport, that being H.O. Bell and Bob Johnson,” said Jensen. “But we came up with the idea of naming the new terminal building after Rankin.”

Construction of the new terminal continues to march forward and overcame several procedural steps on Tuesday. The largest came with the approval of a $35 million funding package through First Security Bank.

Under the agreement, the package includes two notes, valued at $27 million and $7.5 million. The $35 million package represents roughly half of the terminal’s total cost and will see the first wing constructed and opened.

“This is the resolution that will be built upon if there’s another borrowing in the future, and we anticipate there’s likely to be another borrowing to finish the entire package in a few years,” said Ben Johnson, the airport’s bond counsel. “This will set the framework for any future borrowing.”

With approval of the funding package, the airport approved a $5.7 million order for steel and “vertical circulation,” such as elevators and escalators. While bids for the latter came in $50,000 over budget, bids for structural steel came in $760,000 under budget.

“We were really concerned about the steel package,” said Jensen. “That was the one that really had a chance to be most over budget. We were all very pleasantly surprised that we got a really good price from a really good local vendor.”

Combined with grants and other costs, the airport will likely have to borrow less from its $35 bank million loan to complete the terminal’s first phase.

“Getting this grant now is making it so we can fund things with our match and the grant dollars more than having to go to the bank to borrow as much or as early,” said finance manager Teri Norcross.

And calling it a “very good week,” the airport also learned that its portion of discretionary funds will be more than what was initially projected. The amount received thus far is approaching $15 million and cannot exceed $20 million.

“When we started our terminal discussion and put together our budget, we started out with a discretionary number of around $5 million,” Jensen said. “We thought that was a reasonable number to look at. Now in the first two years, we’re at $15 million.”

Jensen said the airport maintains a strong relationship with the FAA, which he thanked for understanding the project’s significance. The airport also received a perfect certification from the agency.

“I’ve been in the airport business for almost 30 years and this is only the second perfect inspection that I’ve been a part of,” he said.