With a new director at the helm, Lafayette Regional Airport commissioners now focusing on major terminal expansion _lowres

Advocate file photo by BRYAN TUCK -- A commercial jet pulls into the terminal of the Lafayette Regional Airport recently.

Lafayette Regional Airport commissioners on Wednesday welcomed the new airport director then got down to business by giving the go-ahead to start the long, detailed process of choosing a designer and builder for the planned $90 million terminal expansion.

“We’re ready to make some decisions tonight and move forward” in planning the new terminal, Airport Director Steve Picou said before the commission’s monthly meeting started.

In December, Lafayette Parish voters approved a 1-cent sales tax to raise $35 million to $37 million to help pay for the terminal enhancements. The tax will be collected from April 1 until Nov. 30 this year on goods except prescription drugs and groceries. The money from the tax will be combined with airport grants from state and federal sources and with money borrowed by the airport to reach the $90 million price.

Commission Chairman Matt Cruse said in December that if sales tax receipts are less than what’s expected, the airport has the bonding capacity to make up the difference.

Consultant Walt Adams, who was hired by the commission to coordinate the terminal project, was hesitant Wednesday in estimating when the terminal would be completed. Pressed for an answer, Adams said it should take three to five years to complete.

Adams told Picou and the airport’s seven commissioners that now is the time to start pulling together information to be included in requests for proposals and prices to build the terminal. Qualified designers and builders locally and nationally will bid on a scope of work developed by a committee of commissioners and an ad hoc committee of Lafayette executives.

“You almost need a little planning retreat,” Adams said. He also recommended that commissioners and Picou develop a project update feature on the airport’s website.

The terminal will be built using the CMAR — construction manager at risk — method where the builder submits a hard-dollar bid that will stick. Adams said such a route requires the builder to be in on the early design stages.

“Let’s start the process,” Cruse told the other commissioners.

The project will expand the terminal’s current three boarding gates to five, with room to build two more gates in the future. The airport’s parking lot also will be enlarged.

Picou, who was attending his first monthly meeting Wednesday as director, was chosen from among 34 candidates after a national search to replace longtime director Greg Roberts. Roberts resigned shortly after he pointed a fake handgun at an engineer after a meeting in June. Roberts, who was not charged with a crime in the case, retired.

Picou, 43, a Louisiana native reared in Cut Off, was hired at a salary of $125,000 a year and given $10,000 for moving expenses. He and his family have since bought a house a few miles from the airport and are settling in.

Picou had been deputy director at the Rick Husband Amarillo (Texas) International Airport for seven years when he was hired to lead Lafayette’s airport. A graduate of Louisiana Tech University in Ruston, Picou also held aviation supervisory jobs at the major airports in New Orleans and Albuquerque.

Picou was hired at a critical and prosperous time for Lafayette Regional Airport. A record number of passengers are took off and landed in 2014. Robert Callahan, a consultant with Sides & Associates, said the number of passengers last month — 38,278 — also made it the best February on record.