Airport hosts groundbreaking to celebrate $2.6 million investmentBy Emily Etheredge Published 5:15pm Tuesday, October 22, 2013
The Chilton County Airport held a groundbreaking ceremony on Tuesday to celebrate a $2.6 million investment at the airport.
Roughly 100 individuals gathered at 11 a.m. at the WPA Hangar at the airport that was the first building constructed at the airport under the Federal Works Progress Administration Program and dedicated in 1937.
Chilton County Airport Authority Chairman Craig Cleckler thanked everyone for attending and explained that the airport was first dedicated on July 3, 1937, making it one of the oldest continuously operating airports in Alabama.
“We are very excited about everything that has been happening at the airport this year,” Cleckler said. “It is amazing how much a community can accomplish when all of us work together for the common goal.”
The ceremony highlighted infrastructure improvement projects including a new runway lighting system, a resurfaced runway, the installation of a new hangar housing 10 airplanes and the clearing of six parcels of land near U.S. Highway 145 extending the runway to 4,000 feet.
Alabama Department of Transportation Aeronautics Bureau Chief Dr. John C. Eagerton said the airport is located in a strategic location and has potential to grow.
“From our vantage point, this airport is doing really well,” Eagerton said. “It is a pleasure to be here today.”
Rep. Kurt Wallace, Chilton County Commission Chairman Allen Caton and Clanton Mayor Billy Joe Driver also spoke at the event highlighting the progress made at the airport.
“This is a wonderful step for this community,” Caton said. “When you visit another area you often look at three things in that community: the hospital, the school system and the transportation. We are very excited about the work that is being done at this airport in helping to grow our community.”
A grant for roughly $1.6 million was awarded to the airport in September from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) that would help upgrade the current lighting system at the airport that is more than 50 years old.
The lighting system will also save the airport roughly 85 percent in electrical costs due to the more modern system of turning the runway lights off when they are not in use.
With the grant, Chilton County was responsible to pay 5 percent of the grant with the FAA and ALDOT posting 95 percent of the cost for the projects.
The land acquisition of the parcels was through a separate grant for roughly $825,000.
Currently, the runway is 3,200 feet and the six parcels and five homes cleared would help in extending the runway to 4,000 feet.
Members of the Chilton County Commission, Clanton City Council and Airport Authority were acknowledged for helping in various projects at the airport.
“Without everyone working together this would not have been possible,” Cleckler said.
Cleckler also thanked Chilton County Industrial Development Coordinator Fred Crawford, Wayne McKinnon with the city of Clanton Industrial Development, Connie Bainbridge with Central Alabama Electric Cooperative and Billy Singleton, board member with the Chilton County Airport Authority.
“This airport will have multiple uses and we look forward to continue providing services to this community and the state of Alabama,” Cleckler said.
The airport facility was originally named in honor of Dr. V.J. Gragg, a local physician, civic leader and supporter of aviation. The name was later expanded to Gragg-Wade Field, co-named in honor of Charles Wade, a local aviation pioneer.
In March 1940, the Commissioners Court granted permission to the Civil Aeronautics Authority to construct a lighted airway beacon and perimeter lighting on the airport to equip the facility to serve as an Auxiliary Landing Field, Site 27, located on Commercial Air Mail Route 40 that originated in Memphis, Tenn. and terminated in Tampa, Fla.
In 2004, the Gragg Field Historic District was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in recognition of a unique and important historical legacy.
Tuesday’s ceremony represented the largest single-year investment for infrastructure revitalization projects scheduled at the airport.