Construction on Owensboro-Daviess County Regional Airport's new $5 million fire station -- technically the Aircraft Rescue & Firefighting Facility— should begin his month, Airport Manager Bob Whitmer said recently.

It's expected to be completed in late 2018 or early 2019, he said.

ARC Construction of Evansville won the contract Nov. 3, underbidding two other contractors.

Whitmer said the 11,875-square-foot building meets all Federal Aviation Administration regulations.

It's designed to "last a minimum of 40 years," he said.

The new station will meet FAA requirements for Owensboro's existing commercial air service, as well as any that the airport may attract over the next four decades, Whitmer said.

Last summer, when the airport board opened bids for the project, they found that the lowest of the six bids received was 28 percent over the $4.3 million allocated for the new station.

Whitmer said the board sliced nearly 7,000 square feet from the 18,555-square-foot dimensions that the FAA recommended for the station, hoping to cut the price from the $5.4 million bid received earlier.

But it's still big enough for what the Daviess County Fire Department needs, Chief Dwane Smeathers said.

"The FAA had given us a circular telling us what we needed," he said. "But some of it was overkill to start with. We had designed a lot more than we needed. We'll still have a very nice facility with a lot more room than we have now. It'll still be our largest fire station."

Plans call for a three-story training tower and a mezzanine for training firefighters in aircraft rescue.

"It's very much needed," Smeathers said. "Everything about it is mandated by the Federal Aviation Administration. There's a 130-something-page book on all the specifications."

The impetus for the new fire station and aircraft rescue training is the 177-passenger jets that Allegiant Air has been flying into Owensboro since 2009.

The training tower, Smeathers said, will be the county's first.

"It will have an airplane door that we'll go through for training on rescuing passengers from a plane," he said.

The Owensboro Fire Department has a training tower at 14th and Daviess streets.

"It will be a multiuse tower," Smeathers said of the county's tower. "We'll use it for rope rescue training, among other things."

The back of the building behind the tower will have a second-floor mezzanine, which will be fitted with airplane seats so firefighters can practice rescuing passengers from an aircraft, he said.

With increased living space at the station, Smeathers said, he hopes to add more firefighters in the future.

"We don't have any plans now," he said. "But eventually, I'd like to add one on each of the three shifts."

The current station was built in 1973.

Whitmer said because of the airport's reinforced 8,000-foot runway and parallel taxiways "and because of relocating the Kentucky National Guard Center to airport property, the airport has been identified as the emergency response location for western Kentucky in case of a major disaster such as an earthquake."

He said, "With Daviess County having a rescue and firefighting facility, which is seismic rated, the people of Daviess County and Owensboro will be even better prepared."

The new station will be about 100 yards from the existing station, Smeathers said.

It will be near the airport's long-term parking area and Modern Welding's hangar, he said.

Keith Lawrence, 270-691-7301, klawrence@messenger-inquirer.com

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