OWLS HEAD, Maine — Sitting next to the two broken-down trailers that have served as the Knox County Regional Airport terminal for nearly two decades is a stunning two-story building with huge windows and a rusty-red shingled roof.
It has taken 10 months and $4 million to complete, but the new 10,000-square-foot facility will finally greet customers beginning Friday morning.
People who work in the airport say the new terminal will be safer, energy efficient and a better way to welcome visitors to the coast.
On Tuesday, construction crews were finishing up detail work and polishing the new Deer Isle granite counters. The building will remain a bit barren since the furniture won’t be in for a few weeks and no vendors have signed on yet to run the restaurant, gift shop or car-rental counter spaces, but all will come in time, according to airport manager Jeffrey Northgraves.
People flying out now wait in line to go into a 6-foot-by-5-foot room with three security officers. They get scanned and then must wait in a single-wide trailer, which employees say gets chilly in the winter because it is so drafty. If customers forget to use the restroom before arriving and being cleared, they have to wait until Boston for relief because there is no facility in the waiting area.
People flying in now step off the plane onto the runway, grab their bags from outdoor shelves and then step into the trailer, which has duct-taped walls.
“It’s the first thing they see in Maine,” Northgraves said, adding that the new facility would allow the airport to “really welcome” visitors.
About 15,000 customers fly out of the airport every year.
They now will check in at the granite counter before walking along carpeted floors to a white-walled hallway to be screened for security. They then will wait in a large, open room with views of the forest and the planes. When visitors fly into the airport, they will be able to retrieve their baggage from a heated area inside. Customers will have wireless Internet access and be able to watch big-screen TVs in the new facility.
The airport’s assigned sheriff’s deputy, Stephen Mazzeo, said the new terminal would be safer.
“It can’t possibly be less safe [than the trailers],” Mazzeo said. “The equipment will be upgraded — the parking lot’s only light went out every 15 seconds.”
Mazzeo said the newly paved parking lot will be well-lit and people won’t trip over their luggage.
Northgraves said the new building was designed to feel like Maine.
“It’s all reminiscent of a pier or the breakwater. It screams at you that you’re in Maine,” he said as he pointed to brown tiled murals, blocky brown and black floors and wood details against white and blue walls.
Northgraves hopes local residents will stop in and have tea at a table in the cafe area while they use the wireless Internet access and watch planes fly in and out.
Kim Stone, who works as the supervisor of Cape Air, the only airline carrier at the county airport, said the move is exciting and necessary.
“There’s mixed feelings about why we need something so big, but we’ve outgrown this,” Stone said. She said the airport handled 885 passengers in September alone.
“It doesn’t sound like a lot, but for a little airport that does three flights a day, that’s a lot,” Stone said.
Northgraves expects the numbers to keep growing and said the new terminal will allow for that growth. Plus, he said, the trailers were supposed to be temporary when they were installed 15 or 20 years ago.
“We had to replace that,” he said, pointing at the double-wide. “No if, ands or buts.”
According to Northgraves, the project cost Knox County about $60,000. All of that was taken from a surplus. The rest of the $4 million came from a grant from the Federal Aviation Administration. The grant uses only aviation-generated taxes, not income-based taxes, Northgraves said.
Northgraves said he is trying to sell the trailers, but no one has bitten yet.
“Make me an offer.”