BR airport rotunda project on track for early completion

A project to enlarge the Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport rotunda is expected to be completed in the first quarter of 2013, after initial projections said the job would be finished by the end of this year, officials said.

The rotunda expansion is the first part of a four-phase, $9 million project that will include new enclosed curbside check-in, new flooring and new restrooms.

When opened in 2000, the rotunda was envisioned as a place where those awaiting arriving travelers could gather.

But new security restrictions after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C., meant only ticketed passengers could pass through the security checkpoint, which is located in a small area at the top of the escalators and stairs giving access to the terminal's second floor.

The current security checkpoint creates bottlenecks for arriving and departing passengers, as well as those who are awaiting arriving passengers, officials have said.

"The real problem is there is no meeter/greeter space," said Ralph Hennessy, the airport's assistant director of aviation.

The new space will also allow for future expansion of the security checkpoint from its current two lanes to three, he said.

"We hope (the rotunda) is done in late January, early February," Hennessy said.

With the improvements, the rotunda will be expanded approximately 70 feet out onto the tarmac, allowing officials to move the security checkpoint farther from the escalator and stairs and providing a space for those awaiting arriving passengers, Hennessy said.

Completion of the rotunda is the first, and largest, phase of a four-part project, Hennessy said.

The other phases should proceed rapidly once the rotunda is completed, he said.

Delays partly were due to problems with steel ordered for the superstructure, Hennessy said. It had to be sent back because it was the wrong size, he said.

There were also delays with the vendor who operates the airport's news and gift shops, Hennessy said.

The second-floor gift shop will be turned into new restrooms for non-ticketed passengers, and a new shop will be located in the expanded rotunda.

"We've got into some issues with them getting their design and getting their contractor on board," he said.

Once Phase 1 is complete, the rotunda will be partly usable, and the Transportation Security Administration will be able to move its current security checkpoint away from where it is now, positioned at the top of the escalator leading from the terminal's ground floor, Hennessy said.

The new checkpoint will be moved back in the rotunda, allowing those awaiting passengers to wait in the rotunda, Hennessy said.

Relocating security equipment is part of Phase 2 of the terminal project, he said. "That should take 60 days," he said.

The project will also address recurring maintenance issues, such as a leaking skylight in the rotunda and restrooms too small to accommodate the number of passengers who pass through the terminal, he said.

Officials hope to have the entire project completed by August, which is the original projected completion target, Hennessy said.

The expansion and upgrade project is funded from airport-generated fees and rents charged to vendors, Hennessy said.