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A look inside PIA’s existing air traffic control tower building

Peoria International Airport's existing tower opened in 1959 and is the second-oldest tower still operating in the U.S.
Joe Deacon
Peoria International Airport's existing tower opened in 1959 and is the second-oldest tower still operating in the U.S.

Last week, Peoria International Airport celebrated a $15 million federal grant to begin construction of a new air traffic control tower.

But why is a new tower needed?

Well, for one thing, the current tower is more than 60 years old and it doesn’t meet several Federal Aviation Administration standards, including height. Director of Airports Gene Olson said the new facility will be 136 feet tall from the ground to the top of the tower, which is about 40 feet taller.

“You have to have a certain look-down angle to the farthest end of the runway, and it doesn't meet that now but the new tower will,” said Olson, noting the new tower will be able to accommodate updated equipment.

“There's other aspects like the current tower doesn't have any backup weather sensors, and there's no place for the instrument panels in the tower to mount those.”

But additionally, the interior of the building that also used to house the old airport terminal and Metropolitan Airport Authority offices is in very poor shape.

“I still remember the first time I went over to that current air traffic control tower,” U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos said during last week’s news conference. “My chief of staff, after he left the air traffic control tower, he described of it that it was like ‘The Silence of the Lambs.’

“I think it's a very apt description of how much attention this project needed and how that needed to be replaced.”

Gallery: PIA air traffic control tower building

While FAA controllers and other staff work on the upper floors of the tower, the lower floors are now vacant. Olson said they did some partial demolition work, but the structure needed to remain intact to support the upper levels.

Olson gave WCBU a tour of the building to show the poor conditions. They include standing water in a basement area, darkened hallways, loose electrical cords and other exposed utilities, dilapidated ceilings and walls, an open elevator shaft, and broken furniture.

The former restaurant and lounge area has sections of partially removed carpet and wallpaper and materials spread about the room.

“When the old terminal was built in the late 1950s, it was kind of a common practice to put control towers and terminals in the same building. Over the decades, those have been separated because they really kind of have different needs,” said Olson.

The new tower will be built between the existing facility and the Byerly Aviation building. Olson said they hope to break ground in the spring and construction is expected to take 2-3 years. After that, both towers will operate simultaneously for a year as part of a commissioning process.

Once that’s complete, Olson said the current tower will be demolished.

“I joke with people about selling raffle tickets for who gets to push the plunger,” said Olson. “But unfortunately, I don't think we can do that, because there's too much asbestos in the building to actually blow it up. We'll have to dismantle it.”

Contact Joe at jdeacon@ilstu.edu.