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Rapid City Regional Airport is entering the final push of its $20.5 million renovation and expansion project.

And travelers are noticing the difference.

“It’s getting to look more like bigger airports,” said Lorie Van Bochove, a Rapid City woman who was on her way to Reno. “It’s more updated, that’s for sure. It’s definitely going to be really nice when it’s done. They keep on making progress.”

About six weeks is all that is left if construction is to meet a completion date at the end of May. Airport officials said construction is still under budget and on schedule, although some changes requested by the city may push the project’s completion into early June.

According to TSP of Rapid City, the architect on the the project, construction was 81 percent complete as of the beginning of last week. Work began in February 2011.

“To actually see it come together is exciting,” airport director Cameron Humphres said during a recent tour. “This is what people will see when they fly into our city for the first time.”

Some of the biggest changes so far are in the concourse, which is done except for some wallpaper and other finishing items.

Floor-to-ceiling windows provide plentiful light and views of the surrounding landscape, including the Black Hills in the distance. Video screens hang above each of the seven new gate counters, clearly identifying both the flight’s airline and final destination.

From the security checkpoint, new carpet creates almost an intuitive path to the rest of the concourse, the pattern curving slightly around a corner to the gate area.

The same curve is mimicked in the new ceiling, with blue lights installed above metal grate panels to give the illusion of depth.

Near the gates, sleek, black sling chairs have also been installed in neat rows, increasing the available seating in the concourse by 230 percent, Humphres said.

That means that even if there is an airplane at every gate and each flight is 75 percent full, a typical load factor for the airport, there will still be a chair for every waiting passenger, he said.

“If you came here during the summer at the peak of the day, you’d come down here and it was standing room only. It had a really crowded feeling,” Humphres said. “We weren’t providing good customer service for basic needs like seats.”

More work is still left to be done in the rest of the terminal building, particularly in the restaurant and meet-and-greet area before the security checkpoint.

Crews from J. Scull Construction of Rapid City, the general contractor on the project, were recently busy working behind temporary plywood walls on the new restaurant kitchen.

The kitchen is being pushed back against the far wall to open up the existing space and make more room for people waiting for passengers to arrive, Humphres said. A skeleton of the bar and new service window is already in place.

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“This whole area will be completely open,” Humphres said. “It’s going to be the central hub of the airport.”

Crews were also busy at work on the deplaning corridor, the hallway used by arriving passengers to exit the concourse.

Once only 36 inches wide, the new corridor is nearly 9 feet in width, with floor-to-ceiling windows along one side.

Along the other wall, native stone is being installed in color bands meant to mimic the geology of the Badlands, Humphres said. The corridor should be done by the end of April.

“They do have a good deal of work to do for this final push, but that’s typical for construction projects,” he said. “Overall, the project has gone very well for a remodel.”

Jim Hutto, president of H.F. Webster, a Rapid City manufacturing company, is a frequent business traveler and said he is already appreciating the new amenities the airport has to offer.

“It’s a little more streamlined going through security,” he said. “It doesn’t seem like much but when you’re on the road a lot, it makes a difference. It’s much improved.”

The expanded cafe area and Internet bar in the concourse also makes it easier for him to come out to the airport early and grab a sandwich and catch up on email, he said.

“It’s a nicer environment,” Hutto said. “The old terminal was not as bright or as user friendly. I think it will represent the city well. It’s really a nice airport.”

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