New terminal provides gateway to possibilities


By Meladi Brewer

VERSAILLES — Ribbon cutting signifies the opening of a gateway to economical development and growth.

Members of ODOT Aviation, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), elected officials, Midmark, and members of the community gathered Friday for the Grand Opening and Ribbon Cutting at the Darke County Airport to celebrate the new terminal.

“When we started planning this event, it got to be a monumental thing of who do you invite,” Commissioner Matt Aultman said. “Not only do you invite your community, you invite your friends, elected officials, you invite the folks who are going to make this community great for the future.”

Former Commissioner Mike Rhoades opened the ceremony by talking about the vision he and the other elected officials at that time had for the future of the county by breaking down the progress the airport took all the ways from the beginning.

In the 60s, Former Ohio Gov. James Rhodes had saw the value of airfields, as they bring tourism and business into the counties. With forward vision in 1967, Darke County and the community surrounding it: businesses, companies, individuals, and government had come together to dedicate the airport.

While working with the FAA, the county had purchased the airport and took over full ownership in 2017, the land, the hangers, widened and lengthened the runway, and more for the continued growth of the business to ensure economic and aviational growth in the community.

“We had been working with the FAA, doing what they wanted, and doing what we wanted, and they were helping us fund a lot of this to get things done. There wasn’t any local taxes to speak of,” Rhoades said.

During his time as a commissioner, the county was not in the best financial status. He helped work to get government funding to expand the airport for the betterment of the community, as the airport helps the community attract and retain businesses, generate local revenue, and support vital services

“In short I want to say thank you to the FAA, ODOT, John Mayfield and his wonderful group -I’m getting choked up because this is good,” Rhoades said. “For what you were thinking and foreseeing the future as to what the growth needed to be to accommodate the future of our children.”

Following Rhoades, John Mayfield, manager of the Airport Districts Office with the FAA, spoke on behalf of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

“It has given us a once in a generation opportunity to build safer and more sustainable airports,” Mayfield said. “Darke County Airport chose to compete and was selected for a new terminal building under the fiscal year 2022.”

Darke County was only one of two airports in Ohio selected for this program.

“The reason why they were selected was because they were ready,” Mayfield said. “They had been doing a lot of work, and they were already going down the path to get a new terminal.”

Mayfield said Darke County was already doing everything they needed to do, so it made the acceptance easy to make during the selection process. The new 2,500 square foot terminal building ADA accessibility, updated energy efficiency and access to the community.

“The project created approximately 40 temporary constructions jobs and 20 engineering and specialty jobs,” Mayfield said. “The airport used both Airport Terminal Program Funding for a total of $1,350,000, and $735,000 in airport improvement program funds for a new terminal building.”

Commissioner Aultman broke down the funding numbers during his speech. From the start of all the projects at the airport in 2007 until 2023, the county has invested a total of $11,540,919.55 into the community through the projects. Of that $11 million, the county has only paid 6.67 percent of the funding.

“$9.3 million dollars came from federal funding, $1.4 million came from the state through ODOT Aviation, and $770,00 came from local funds,” Aultman said.

Aultman said the math came down to only $43,000 a year for the past couple of years to get the return the county is seeing. He said the county is looking at a 6.67 percent investment to get almost 94 percent funding of tax money back into the community through employment opportunities and construction.

“I kind of think it’s funny. In 2017 it was my first year coming into office, and I said ‘man why are we wasting our money on the airport’,” Aultman said. “You know there is a lot of sentiment from the community, but until you’re in it, around it, and you feel the passion in the things it can provide, you don’t know the true value.”

The airport is still growing with future plans. On the horizon, an updated project was submitted for funding, and “with the long term vision for the community and businesses, these investments have been a priority to get to where things are today.”

Commissioner Aultman said Darke County is one thing, “We over dream, we over estimate, but we come out and we deliver.” Part of that over dreaming and estimation brought forth a new wave of business to the county for economic development. Currently the airport houses 29 aircraft and 1 helicopter, and there is a current two year wait-list to get a hanger.

“This building and facility are really the gateway for the continued growth for the airfield,” Airport Manager Scott Naas said. “Economic impact, locally, is able to continue with the airport being a huge asset.”

As a “gateway to balance possibilities”, the airport is looking to develop a community hanger in the future that will allow for further growth that will allow opportunities.

Careflight Air & Mobile also spoke on behalf of the new terminal saying they are fortunate to be able to use the facilities to provide vital care to the surrounding community with a prime location spot, on site fueling that allows them to get out and back quicker, and the provided resources the airport brings that is important to their care they bring to the community.

The airport provides economic development through business expansion, local traffic to Hotel Versailles and local shops, job opportunities, and vital medical care and more. The airport looks to continue its growth and community impact as future projects are developed to bring more consumers into Darke County.

Ending with the words Commissioner Aultman wrote on a frosted beam one cold January morning in 2023 it reads, “May this terminal stand as a gateway for visitors to Darke County for many years to come.”

To contact Daily Advocate Reporter Meladi Brewer, email [email protected].

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