KENDALLVILLE — Heavy equipment has already been out at work moving a lot of dirt, but on Wednesday, city, county and business officials gathered at the Kendallville Municipal airport to officially launch construction of a new heated jet hangar.
Under a hot sun and bright, partly cloudy skies — admittedly nice flying weather — local officials put shovel spades to dirt to break ground on the $1.2 million project that’s been in the works for about three years.
The new 100-foot-by-100-foot heated hangar will allow Kendallville to house up to three small- to medium-sized jets at a time, as well as provide a space out of the elements for other transient traffic to utilize if space is available.
Right now, Kendallville’s airport has little activity in winter, because anyone flying in would have to tie up their aircraft outside. The climate-controlled hangar would allow more people to utilize the airport in bad weather, making Kendallville a year-round airport for the first time.
Kendallville Board of Aviation Commissioners President Mike Jansen welcomed a good-sized group of people to the groundbreaking, taking time to recognize the many groups that had come together to make the project happen.
That was a major theme of Wednesday’s ceremony, collaboration, since it took a team effort of various government organizations to make the project fly.
Talks about adding more hangar space started in summer 2016, when the board first thought about building more T-hangars, which house the small recreational planes based at the airport. Right now the airport has space for 44 aircraft and is always full. Talk then morphed into an 80-by-80 equipment shed, for winter snow removal equipment and other items.
But in 2017, with input from the Federal Aviation Administration about what type of building it might fund, the airport board learned the FAA would financially support something a bit bigger and less spartan.
“Instead of going small, let’s go big. Let’s build something heated and help the business community,” Jansen said.
By building a jet hangar, the airport could serve more corporate traffic that might fly into the area for business meetings or for site selection. Currently that kind of traffic typically lands at Goshen or Auburn and skips over Noble County.
“They’ll be able to stop here while doing business here and park out of inclement weather,” Jansen said.
The project was decided, but the path to it was filled with turbulence. Originally pegged at about $700,000, factors such as rising material costs and additional work required to prep the site caused the price to climb. By the beginning of 2018, the aviaition board was looking closer to $1 million, and even after the dollar figure was rising.
“We reached a point in the project where it was almost canceled due to cost,” Jansen said.
That’s where the collaboration came in. The airport board branched out to search for funding sources to make up the extra cost. The Kendallville Local Development Corp., the Kendallville City Council, the Noble County Economic Development Corp. and other organizations all put up money to help fund the project.
In total, local sources provided about $230,000 to make the project a reality.
Mayor Suzanne Handshoe cited those efforts as the main storyline behind the new building.
“It’s about collaboration, it’s about growth, it’s about our future,” she said. “This isn’t just a City of Kendallville airport. It’s a county airport.”
State Rep. Dave Abbott, R-Rome City, complimented the vision of local leaders to grow the airport, tying the expansion into Indiana’s ongoing effort to retain and attract business to the state.
“We’re trying to encourage business to stay in Indiana, to come to Indiana,” he said. “Building this hangar is looking toward the future, toward economic development.”
Chris Crabtree, a representative from U.S. Rep. Jim Banks’ office, also recognized how the project creates a connection between the federal FAA, the state department of transportation, the city, the county and local economic development organizations.
He called Kendallville’s airport a “regional asset,” something communities should build on.
“I’m really impressed with the amount of leadership ... with all these organizations that stepped forward,” Crabtree said.
With a few short speeches wrapped up, the group went outside to don shovels and do a little ceremonial digging at the construction site located just west of the current hangar building.
Construction is expected to be wrapped up by Oct. 31, airport manager John Kline said. With the new hangar, he expects jet traffic would increase at Kendallville once people learn about the new amenity.
Right now, only a small number of jets use the airport. Kline said he may see one or two jets each month, and two or three turboprop planes a week. Ideally, a jet owner would choose to base their aircraft at Kendallville, providing hangar rent as a new source of revenue for the airport.
With the hangar construction starting, Jansen said next on the list would be making a case to get a runway extension, going from 4,400 to 5,000 feet, another move that would only encourage bigger aircraft to land at Kendallville.
The mayor is already on board.
“That will be our next goal. We will get that 5,000-foot runway,” she said.