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Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport renovations are taking off here

Workers carried insulation panels on the roof of the Brainerd Lakes Regional Air

Construction efforts are transforming the Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport, part of a year-long process to remodel the facility. 

The $6.4 million terminal remodeling project, using dedicated transportation funds, is expected to be completed in early November. The project includes an addition to the terminal and renovation of existing space along with a jet bridge, linking the terminal to waiting aircraft. 

The airport’s daily flights, air services and car rentals are continuing through the construction. 

“Everyday it looks a little different,” said Steve Sievek, airport manager, noting current work on the upper roof. “I think we’ll see something by the end of April that will look pretty impressive.”

The changes to the terminal are designed for greater energy efficiency and will alter the way the airport handles the security responsibilities of screening baggage and passengers. 

For a busy 6:50 a.m. flight to the Twin  Cities earlier this week, the crowded secure passenger waiting space was nearly standing room only. The airport created the secured passenger area after 9/11 changed how Americans travel by air. 

The main change through the renovation will increase the secure passenger area by bumping out the current space onto the tarmac, adding bathrooms to it and a vending area. If a passenger has to use the bathroom now, they must leave the secure area and be re-screened. The airport loads about 16,000 people on planes each year, not counting charter flights, which may add another 1,000 passengers. A non-secure waiting area with a view of the landing area will continue to be available for family and friends of departing or arriving passengers.

With the renovation, luggage will move on a conveyor for the behind the scenes screening. Currently, baggage is screened in public view. And all the bathrooms are being redone and will meet Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. The red brick exterior will be covered with an insulated metal panel, creating improved energy efficiency. The addition of a raised center skylight is planned to bring more light into the terminal’s interior.

Sievek said the construction work is about two weeks behind schedule because of weather and steel delivery issues. But he said strides to make up time are being made by shifting work between the several phases of construction in order to get back on track. Phase One should be completed in June.

Delta Airlines and the car rental companies, which are currently operating from temporary spaces, will be able to move into their new quarters once Phase One is completed. The car rental companies shifted their operations to the east portion of the terminal building. The west end, where they previously operated, was gutted for the renovation and building additions. 

Funding for the project came from airport improvement funds that were not used for other projects and were then redistributed in the region. Last fall, the airport received a $1,417,146 grant to extend the runway and taxiway so aircraft should no longer have to reduce a fuel load or passenger load during hot summer days. That work is now complete. 

With the addition of the jet bridge, the airport terminal will have a interior ramp taking passengers up four to five feet to enter the jet bridge and walk out to the aircraft. Currently, all passengers exit out on the tarmac and use an exterior staircase to access the planes in all kinds of weather. An exterior lift is used for passengers who use wheelchairs.

“It’s going to be a huge improvement over what we do now,” Sievek said. “I think we are headed in the right direction at the right time.”

Breitbach Construction is responsible for the project. Kuepers Construction is the on-site project manager.

RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at or 855-5852.