GUSTINE - A long-awaited drainage improvement project is moving forward at the Gustine Municipal Airport.

City leaders hope more upgrades are in the works.

The City Council last week awarded a $327,600 contract to McElvany, Inc., for the drainage project, which City Manager Doug Dunford said has been on the books for six or seven years.

That amount was the lowest by more than $200,000 among the five companies bidding on the project, and well below the engineer’s estimate of $615,000 on the project.

Dunford said the project will alleviate the occasional flooding which encroaches on the airport taxi-way and has at times forced temporary closure of the airport.

And, Dunford noted, because the drainage project was in the queue the FAA was requiring completion of that work before authorizing any additional improvements which require the agency’s blessing.

“That was stalling any other projects that we wanted to complete. Now we can move forward on some other things at the airport as well,” Dunford commented.

The drainage projects requires a $37,000 matching fund, he said. The city will use regional Measure V proceeds to meet that obligation.

The work will involve a closure of the runway for a day or two at some point, Dunford noted.

“It will impact airport operations while they go under the runway,” he said of the project. “Other than that, there will be a notice (to pilots) that people will be working around the runway but not on the runway.”

Given the far lower than expected cost, the city has $273,000 or so left over from the previous federal allocations it had saved up to cover the drainage project cost.

Dunford said that money must be used for improvements to the airfield itself rather than ancillary facilities such as hangars. A logical use, he suggested, would be to use the money to update its airport master plan. “That will give us a blueprint for the future of the airport,” he commented.

One of the next projects for the airport will be new security fencing, Dunford said, which the city hopes to complete during the current fiscal year.

A new sign would also be nice, he added, and city staff is looking into options for replacing the aging airport hangars.

There are 14 hangars at the airport. One is unusable after being damaged in a windstorm a couple of years ago, and two others are vacant.

Dunford said recently that he hopes to bring information to the council in the near future on the cost and funding options for replacing the airport hangars.

“We can talk and talk, but the longer we talk the fewer hangars we have. They are blowing away a sheet at a time. Right now you can call them hangars but they don’t really even qualify as that,” he remarked.

Dunford said the city has conferred with pilots on the topic of hangars.

“We have come up with a couple of suggestions that are not cost-prohibitive,” he stated. “They are not a Taj Mahal, but they are also not just a lean-to. We need something that is sturdy and safe for the pilots.”

Improvement projects such as hangar replacement would not only increase the functionality and use of the airport but burnish the image of the facility as well, Dunford pointed out.

“That airport is the first thing people see coming in to Gustine on Highway 140,” he said. “New hangars would change the look of that airport. It would bring a whole new shine to the airport.”