Leadership Walker County participants want to improve Walker County Airport-Bevill Field with new signage and plans to raise tie-down fees with a new …
Leadership Walker County participants want to improve Walker County Airport-Bevill Field with new signage and plans to raise tie-down fees with a new collection box, but noted they still need about $22,000 to complete playground plans to go along with a public viewing area, picnic tables and plane displays.
Speaking during a presentation of their plan at Monday’s Walker County Commission meeting, the participants, including a number of business leaders, took turns at the podium to talk about their plans and work to date.
They want the facility to host special events and family gatherings to increase visibility for the airport and educate children.
One special event, “Walker County Day at the Airport,” is set for Saturday, Oct. 7.
Commissioner Keith Davis and County Engineer Mike Short were among those participating in this year’s Leadership class.
Angie Jo Harris of FedEx, representing one of the Leadership teams, said Leadership participants went to see the airport in October, with one asking, “Airport? Do we have an airport?”
“The Walker County Airport is a very valuable asset in serving as a gateway to the prospective business and community interests,” Harris said. She quoted Linda Lewis, the president of the Chamber of Commerce of Walker County, as saying that among the ways the airport can help are in economic development, retail development, tourism and image, as well as developing the region.
The airport offers accessability, increases the amount of visitors and puts money into the local economy, Harris said.
Davis, whose district includes the airport, said on tape in the presentation the airport is key to job recruitment, recreation and improving the quality of life locally.
Harris said among the challenges in putting on the special day in October would be the lack of parking places and signs, and the rural location several miles northwest of Jasper (up Highway 195 and then off of Russell Dairy Road, turning at Biddle Drive). The team also wanted to enhance the viewing area to have car shows, picnics, school activities and other similar events.
In hosting the event, the team will hold a car show and have displays of civilian and military aircraft, presented by the Army National Guard. “We will also have a play area so that we can draw in families,” she said.
Long-time local pilot Ed Banks said on tape the event would make the county more aware of the airport and its benefit to the community, pointing out the airport is the first local impression many business prospects see when they fly into the county.
Susan Chandler of the Jasper City School System, who represented another Leadership team, noted many people don’t know where the airport is located. Her team found out regulations controlled how new signs (costing $125 each) could be placed in some locations to benefit the airport. She showed on PowerPoint highway signs for the airport that have been faded, and pointed out the lack of a major entrance sign to the airport. Some signs have already been replaced.
Chandler displayed a design for an entrance sign that was proposed for the airport, which she said would be attractive. With assistance from the Bevill State Community College Business Incubator and the Walker County Center of Technology, local students have already started working on some elements of the sign. She noted Alabama Power has donated $1,500 to construct columns for the sign.
“We see this as a very obtainable goal. We are very excited we have come this far and we can see that we are going to make a difference. We are going to make a good first impression,” she said.
Rules prevented putting directional signs for the airport on U.S. Interstate 22, as the airport is more than five miles from the interstate. However, Chandler said she has heard exemptions have been possibly given on other rules, and possibly other officials might can help get an exception for this sign.
Romalyn Aaron, the manager of Full Moon Barbecue, talked about her team’s efforts concerning upkeep and maintenance of the airport, as well as improving revenue for the facility.
The team decided to focus on the collection of aircraft tie-down fees.
“Our action plan was to create envelopes for fees and create a secure collection box, which you can see over here,” she said, pointing to a display in the commission chambers. “It is something easy that our customers flying in can do.”
Short said portion of the Engineer’s Office has been moved to the county’s original fixed base operation (FBO), so the collection box will be attached to the fence at that location, close to where the walk-through gate is.
“Pilots who come in and tie their aircraft down can pull an envelope and put their money in the box,” he said.
Aaron said $2,400 is projected to be raised annually through those fees in order to pay for maintenance costs such as lawn mowing.
Jerry Byars said his team focused in generating newspaper coverage, the viewing area, a playground area and the existing park area.
“We call it a viewing area, but we are going to incorporate the playground and a parking lot into that area,” Byars said. The parking lot, near the Engineer’s Office, is 100 feet by 123 feet. A loading gate near a ramp that needs space, so 13 parking spots will be created, which will be fine for a normal day. A field near Sanders Aviation will be used for extra parking for the special event in October.
“We’re going to add a walk-in gate to that fence, and an equipment gate to bring in equipment to work on the playground,” he said. “We want to add fence on the eastern and southern portions of that area to enclose it. We can’t have people running around lose on the ramp with airplanes running around.
With the help of Sanders Aviation, two airplanes, a Folland Gnat (a British fighter trainer jet plane) and a C-175 Skylark, will be placed at near the playground, noting the airplanes still need to be restored. Three picnic tables will be placed south of the playground, which will allow viewing of planes taking off and making taxi maneuvers.
Byars said the team hopes to have the work done by the October event.
The facilities planned will amount to “hands-on education” for children, as they can touch actual airplanes and see other aircraft in flight, sometimes while at the playground or picnic areas, he said. It will also raise awareness for county citizens that the airport exists.
Elementary school teachers in the area have also been excited about the plans. Tours for the Birmingham-Shuttlesworth Airport in Birmingham were suspended after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, he said.
“Now security is so high that you really don’t have those opportunities anymore, so this would help that,” Byars said.
A $40,000 budget was estimated at first for the team’s project, although with extra costs found, the plans were reworked so that the team and high school groups can do donated work, which has cut the budget down to about $35,000.
Davis has promised county help with the fence, while Joey Sanders of Sanders Aviation has offered work for the plane displays. “We’re going to put the playground together,” although he hoped for volunteer engineering help.
However, the overall project is about $22,000 short at the moment, which is generally the cost of the playground, he said.
“The playground itself is the big cost, as it is about $20,000, but that is where we need to get some money,” Byars said. “I think we already have $1,000 from Bevill State, the chamber of commerce and FedEx, so we are chipping away at it.”
Another $10,000 has been obtained from Sanders and his wife, Debbie, he said.
“But that will be the big limiting factor on getting this accomplished. I think the airplanes, the picnic tables and the viewing area, that will get done,” he said. “There is not a doubt in my mind. The playground is the only one I am concerned about, but we will have to come up with ways to raise the money.”
Educational signs for the children could also be placed on the fences to explain some features and operations of the airport, ranging from what a windsock is for to aeronautical charts showing the distance from Walker County to other airports, he said.
Future projects that will take extra money down the road could include a pavillion, bathrooms and a water fountain, Byars said, although he said it is possible some of it could still take place before the October event.
Lewis told commissioners the end product of the Leadership class’ work has been “unbelievable” in terms of what has been done in a short amount of time. It is the first time one project was shared by all the Leadership classes at the same time, which created challenges. The opportunity arose after an analysis on the airport led Lewis and Bevill State Community College Interim President Kim Ennis to wonder if all the teams could cooperate to help the airport.
Ennis said she was proud of the Leadership program, noting it has been a cooperative effort of the chamber and Bevill State over 17 years, improving the county over many projects. The joint effort this year also worked, she said, as everyone worked together, noting the Leadership program may be as strong as it has ever been.
“It is important that economic development is a focus for all of us,” she said. “Bevill State and the chamber are definitely partners in promoting economic development. At the bottom line, that a lot of what this is about,” she said. “So we couldn’t be happier today. These people stepped up to the plate and did a fabulous job.”
Commissioners commended the leaders for their work, although Chairman Jerry Bishop noted the commission does not have funds available for any financial donation. County officials are currently trying to avoid bankruptcy by raising funds through a 1-cent sales tax increase that voters will decide upon.