After months of uncertain skies, the terminal remodeling project at the Pine Bluff municipal Grider Field Airport has taken flight.

After months of uncertain skies, the terminal remodeling project at the Pine Bluff municipal Grider Field Airport has taken flight.

Construction began Jan. 16 on the second and final phase of the remodeling project, which, at $439,000, is estimated to take six months. The contractor is Bell Construction, which also completed the $500,000 Phase I of the project.

By the time of the Aviation Commission meeting Jan. 19, a temporary false wall to shield the restaurant area from the construction noise had already been constructed and airport staff had relocated their offices out of the way of the construction crews.

“We’ll have some growing pains,” Airport Manager Doug Hale told the commissioners. “We’re trying to express to our aviators and the public to pardon our progress.”

Phase II of the project will replace the building’s broken air-conditioning system, replace the roof and remodel several offices in the terminal, among other items. The building was built in the ’60s and hasn’t undergone a significant remodel since. During Phase I in 2010, the outside of the building and many of the public spaces inside were remodeled.

Eighty percent of the funding comes from the Arkansas Department of Aeronautics and 20 percent of the funding comes from the city of Pine Bluff.

Questions about whether the city would be able to provide the matching funds for the project have kept it from getting started for more than a year. The Aviation Commission originally asked the city for the matching funds after Phase I was completed in spring 2010, but the idea was shelved in September 2010 at the request of Mayor Carl A. Redus Jr. because of concerns about a tight budget in 2011.

The city succeeding in passing a new five-eighths-cent city sales tax in February 2011, but at an Aviation Commission meeting in July, Redus advised the commission to raise donations and seek alternative sources of funding before returning to the city to ask for the matching funds.

The commissioners disagreed about the practicality and wisdom of such an approach — especially given that ADA officials had expressed frustration that the project hadn’t been completed and had advised the commission to finish the project before they would be eligible for other grants — and the debate continued for months before the city council approved in September 2011 a resolution pledging the funding out of the 2012 budget.

But when Redus presented the council in November with his proposed 2012 budget, only about half of the match amount was included. On Jan. 3, the council approved Redus’ proposal, but also in a last-minute vote from the floor voted to fund the rest of the match out of funds collected in 2011 from the five-eighths-cent city sales tax. On Jan. 17, the council held a second vote to make that change official in the budget.

Hale said that as soon as the Jan. 3 vote took place, he moved quickly through the final steps needed to get the project started. Still, he told the commissioners Thursday, they will be lucky to finish construction in time to meet the state’s deadline for the grant on June 30.

Hale said he has spoken with ADA officials to make them aware of the situation and has been told the commission will not be penalized.

One of the airport’s biggest events of the year will be the Black Pilots of America fly-in on Memorial Day weekend in May. Hale said that the contractors are already aware that they will need to halt construction during that weekend.

In other business, the commission:

• Approved having $2,552 spent on employee raises so that airport employees will get the same $1,800 raise that all other city employees are getting. The budget submitted by the commission and approved by the council included a 4.1 percent raise instead. Hale said that City Finance Director Steve Miller advised him that the $1,800 raises approved by the council applied to regular city employees, not those governed by commissions, and that if commissions would like to give the higher raise amount, they must do so out of their own budget. The Aviation Commission voted in favor of spending the extra money on the raises, reasoning that because their employees were under the impression that they would be getting them, it would be best to fulfill those expectations.

• Approved a five-year capital improvement project list to submit to the Federal Aviation Administration. The tentative plan is to: resurface the tarmac on the ramps beside the runway in 2013, address drainage issues in the runway area in 2015 and improve the hangars in 2017. The FAA provides a certain amount of funding on an annually basis for capital improvement projects.

• Has received the deed and keys to the former National Guard Armory building at the airport. The Guard has moved to a shared facility at the Pine Bluff Arsenal, and the commission is looking to rent the facility at the airport to a tenant.

• And heard reports that both the Black Pilots of America and the Experimental Aircraft Association have committed to holding events at Grider Field again this year.