QUINTER — In what will be fulfillment of a dream for many in the small community of Quinter, the first airport soon will be built through the efforts of the Gove County Healthcare Endowment Foundation to provide faster transportation to larger medical centers.
In August, the foundation received two grants from the Kansas Department of Transportation’s Kansas Airport Improvement Program for $1.96 million, which will cover much of the cost of the $3 million airport. The work of fundraising, grant applications, feasibility studies and meetings started in earnest in 2011, but the dream began in 1995.
“We were very thrilled when we heard,” said Carol Kinderknecht, executive director of the foundation. “It’s been a long pull since 2011, but we were the one large project that KDOT aviation announced this year.
“It’s my understanding that they wanted one large project and make it have an impact in the community. They definitely have done that.”
They are now seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, the director said. The airport will meet the mission of the foundation, which is to enhance rural health care.
Kinderknecht thought it would take approximately five or six years to pull it all together.
Located on Interstate 70, Quinter has trauma-related accidents, where time is of the essence as well as newborn babies and stroke patients in need of advanced care. Patients could have to wait up to an hour while transportation is being arranged either to Oakley, which is 35 miles away, or to WaKeeney, 22 miles away.
“That hour can mean life or death,” Kinderknecht said.
The location of Quinter was considered a gap in the medical air service.
The community does have a dirt runway, but it was unusable for medical transports. Gove County, where Quinter is located, is one of five counties in the state that does not have an airport.
Not only will the new airport serve the medical community, it will serve the airplane community with a taxiway, runway, apron and lights.
“It will be a full-functioning airport when it gets completed,” Kinderknecht said. “We had to make a commitment that we would have an up-and-running airport (after) getting funding from KDOT aviation.”
They still have to do more fundraising to meet their end of the bargain.
Soil samples have been taken and the dirt work is scheduled to be completed this fall. The concrete 4,000- to 5,000-foot runway will be completed in the spring.
Eventually, the foundation plans to build a terminal and allow hangars to be built, Kinderknecht said. Already, a water well has been dug and electrical lines buried.
Kinderknecht and the foundation have been the driving force behind the project, but it has involved the community as well.
Gove County commissioners have agreed to pave the road entering the airport, she said. Commissioners already have made efforts to protect the airspace.
The airport will be built on 142 acres a mile south and a quarter mile east of Quinter. The road south of Quinter already is blacktop.
“I believe this is a major accomplishment for Gove County,” Kinderknecht said. “It’s the biggest project we’ve ever undertaken.
“This is different than a lot of airports. It’s not a city, and it’s not a county airport.”
The foundation will own the airport.
“If we are able to save one life, we have accomplished the major goal,” she said.
“We had a rough summer with some motor vehicle accidents and really utilized our neighboring airports to get them more quickly to their destination,” said Ericka Nicholson, city administrator and president of the Quinter ambulance service. “It literally can mean the difference of life and death to people who are in need of immediate care.”
Nicholson credits the work of the endowment foundation for achieving the airport.
“The project came about because of a lot of dedicated people,” she said. “They put the right people on the right committees.
“Those people worked really, really hard. This is a proud moment for the county as a whole.”
Kansas Department of Transportation Secretary Mike King will be present for a ribbon-cutting at 1 p.m. Sept. 17 at Gove County Medical Center.