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Manhattan Regional Airport will have to close during runway construction

No matter which option the Manhattan City Commission selects for improvements at the Manhattan Regional Airport, the airport will have to close for a period of time for construction completion.

The length of the closure and when it will close is still up in the air as the city weighs two options for runway repairs, either a complete reconstruction or rubblizing of the runway.

Manhattan city commissioners discussed the updates to the airport master plan Tuesday at a work session aimed to inform the commission about funding estimates and information about the runway.

Rubblization — a construction technique that reduces the existing surface into rubble and then adds a concrete overlay — is a cheaper option. Officials estimating the total cost at $39.2 million, with no phasing, and $40 million if the city opts to move forward with the project in phases.

Complete reconstruction costs are estimated at a higher cost at $45.1 million without phasing and $48.1 million with phasing.

Officials presented these estimated numbers for the project, but they expect the cost to fluctuate depending on inflation and available grants in the future.

In regard to the timeline for the project, officials estimate planning to last until 2020 with design beginning in 2021 and construction lasting from 2022 to 2024.

Construction for rubblization could last for 95 days while complete construction is estimated to last for 146 days.

Days that the airport must close for construction varies depending on which option the city decides and if they decide to do it in phases or not.

Officials said the runway doesn’t have significant structural issues right now, but the surface is eroding.

The current length of the runway is 7,000 feet, and the airport wants to extend that to 7,400 feet. No matter if the city decides to rubblize or reconstruct the runway completely, it will be in the same spot as the current one, just extended.

The airport aims to construct a 150-foot-wide runway despite the Federal Aviation Association funding up to 90% of the cost toward a 100-foot-wide runway.

“Those things are up in the air,” said Jesse Romo, director of the Manhattan Regional Airport. “The FAA is quick to tell you that they can’t guarantee future funding.

The FAA said the airport is only eligible for funding for a 100-feet-wide runway because the airport has less than 500 flights taking off annually and aircraft weighing less than 150,000 pounds.

“Unfortunately, we’ve had some conversations that have gone in circles too,” he continued.

The runway is 150 feet wide currently.

The FAA told the city in a letter in March that the airport could proceed with the larger runway, but retracted that statement in a Nov. 1 letter stating that the airport is only eligible for a 100-foot runway width.

If the FAA only provided the amount it would give for a 100-foot runway, the city is on the hook for paying around $8 to $9 million for a 150-foot project, but officials said those numbers need to be analyzed again for accuracy. Butler said he wanted to know the updated financial costs in the future.

“I’m interested in somebody crunching those, because people are going to be talking about (what) exactly is this going to be, so that’s the big one,” Butler said.

It’s important for Kansas State University to have access to a 150-feet-wide runway to allow for charter plans for football and basketball team to take off, said Linda Cook, chief of staff at K-State. Fort Riley also needs this size for takeoffs, officials said.

Some city commissioners expressed they want to comply with this request as they don’t want to lose business to neighboring airports such as in Salina, Topeka or even in Kansas City.

“I don’t want to have the communities on either side of us to have the 150 feet and we get stuck with the 100 feet,” said commissioner Linda Morse.

Commissioners Wynn Butler and Jerred McKee grappled with how the city will pay for these expenses after voters rejected the 0.3% sales tax measure in the general election last week.

That measure planned to fund improvements at the airport.

Commissioner Usha Reddi said she wants to hear more information as the project moves forward.

Commissioners ultimately did not elaborate on which option they prefer — rubblization or complete reconstruction — but plan to discuss these options further in the future.

In other action Tuesday, commissioners:

Heard a report from Lee Wolf, CEO of the Konza Prairie Community Health Center. Wolf said the center, which has facilities in both Manhattan and Junction City, aims to keep patients out of the emergency room by providing care. The center had 33,806 patient visits and assisted 12,805 patients in 2018.

Estabrook gets 48 hours in jail, house arrest for April DUI

Incoming Manhattan city commissioner Aaron Estabrook entered a plea deal on Tuesday for an April DUI charge with a sentence that includes house arrest and some jail time.

Riley County District Judge John Bosch issued the sentencing exactly a week following the municipal election Nov. 5.

News Radio KMAN reported Estabrook will serve 48 hours in jail and 120 hours of house arrest, both of which will be scheduled at a later hearing. He will have to perform 20 hours of community service.

Bosch also ordered Estabrook to serve six months of probation and pay a fine of $1,250, as well as nearly $170 in court and probation costs.

Estabrook was charged with DUI stemming from a non-injury accident on April 15. According to an RCPD report, Estabrook struck a parked vehicle in the Starbucks parking lot on Bluemont Avenue. Estabrook said at the time he had been leaving from dinner at Coco Bolos. Police arrested him nearby outside the Shop Quik gas station after he initially refused to perform sobriety tests.

Estabrook’s attorney requested that the hearing get rescheduled twice. It was originally scheduled for September, and then October.

Estabrook told The Mercury on Tuesday he didn’t know the reason for the delay, but the “legal process isn’t always fast.”

“I’m anxious to get this chapter over with and move forward,” Estabrook said.

“I take responsibility, and I am remorseful for the lapse of judgement,” he continued.

Since then, Estabrook said he has completely stopped drinking.

“I’ve moved on from that,” he said.

Estabrook said he has since gained empathy for people who struggle with drinking and similar issues. He said he has had a lot of personal change and discovery since April.

“It’s going to stay with me forever, and ... unfortunately, I have to go through this, there are some positives coming out,” he said.

Estabrook will assume duties as city commissioner in January.

He edged Sarah Siders for the third open position on the city commission by 130 votes. Estabrook received 2,906 votes while Siders gained 2,776.

Lee Elementary cleared after early Wednesday hostage threat

Law enforcement officials have cleared Lee Elementary School after a reported hostage threat believed to be coming from inside the school was found to be false.

Riley County police officers surrounded the building early Wednesday morning when the police department received a call from a man who claimed to be inside the school with a hostage. The man later made claims to the police department as well as KSNT News that he had committed other felony crimes and had a person at gunpoint inside the building.

The RCPD officers, as well as Kansas Highway Patrol, did not begin to clear the building until shortly before 7 a.m., finding no evidence of the man.

Police believe that the call was fabricated and that the person who made the call is not local. They believe that the call was an attempt to receive air time on news stations.

While a few officers were keeping students and parents away from the building at 7:30 a.m., the school district announced that school would be in session at Lee on Wednesday, and buses would make their regular drop offs at the school later in the morning.

Erica Bammes, principal at Lee Elementary, said that school operations weren’t affected too much, since the building was cleared before the regular start of the school day, although the morning portion of Boys and Girls Club was canceled.

About 140 students were absent Wednesday, compared to a total student body of about 510, which Bammes said included students out because of illness but was still a high rate of absent students compared to other days.

RCPD spokeswoman Hali Rowland said the department will look at the origin of the call as part of its investigation. She declined to discuss the details of the investigation, including the claimed felonies, so as to not give the man any additional attention.

Texas woman sentenced to 3 years probation for 2018 shooting death of boyfriend

A Riley County judge on Tuesday sentenced a Texas woman who shot and killed her boyfriend in 2018 to three years of probation.

District Judge John Bosch sentenced Gregoria Baez, 22, of Stamford, Texas, to 36 months of probation after a jury convicted her of involuntary manslaughter in September. The conviction stemmed from the 2018 death of her then-boyfriend, Felix Florez, 21, of Manhattan. This was the lesser conviction option for Baez, who had been charged with second-degree murder. She also will have to be registered through the Kansas Offender Registration Act for 15 years.

On the evening of Sept. 22, 2018, Baez and Florez were alone at their residence at 1420 Vista Lane. Baez testified in court during the trial that she and Florez were joking around, and they pointed guns at each other. Baez said as she raised her gun, she accidentally disengaged the grip safety and shot Florez, who later died at the hospital.

The court on Tuesday had the option of imposing the presumptive prison sentence of 32 months, but a special ruling for the charge allowed the judge to order a non-prison sanction if he had enough convincing factors to do so.

Bosch said he considered the points Baez’s attorney, Cole Hawver, had laid out in a motion and in court Tuesday, which included that Baez did not pose a threat to the public as she had no criminal history or history of violence, her “capacity to grow and mature” as an individual given that Baez was 21 when she committed the crime and that she has shown remorse for the incident.

Hawver also said Baez has a support network to rely on, she had nothing to gain from Felix’s death, registering as a violent offender with years of probation is “punishment enough for Liz’s unintentional actions” and keeping Baez out of prison would help reduce overcrowding and save the state money from housing another prisoner.

In addition to probation, Bosch imposed about $620 worth of court, correctional supervision, KBI DNA database and application fees to Baez.

Baez will be able to serve out her probation in Texas, where she moved back to after the incident.

Before the judge issued the sentence, Baez had the opportunity to address the court in asking for a lesser sentence.

“I am sorry, regardless if (Felix’s family) takes it or not,” Baez said through tears. “I loved Felix with everything that I had. I still love Felix. Others may not think so, but I have to live with this for the rest of my life.”

Friends and family of Baez also told stories of what kind of person they believe Baez to be, pleading for probation, while members of the Florez family demanded Baez be held accountable for her actions.

“She’s always been there for me when I needed her, and she’d never hurt anyone,” Miranda Baez said of her sister. “I just pray that you see the person that she is, and I pray that you see in her heart that she wouldn’t do anything ever again.”

Jennifer Florez, Felix’s mother, said seeing Baez receive a prison sentence would bring some sense of comfort to the family if they knew she was being held accountable.

“There’s no normal anymore and every day is a struggle to get through,” Jennifer said. “I find myself reliving that night over and over in my head. … If Miss Baez is sentenced to prison, her family will still be allowed to receive phone calls and letters from her and even visit her. We will never get the opportunity to see our son again. … No parent should have to bury their child.”

Nickolas Oatley / Staff photo by Nickolas Oatley  

Rachelle Bell reads a book to Penelopie Paige, 4, Katie Bell, 5, and McKenzie Tefertiller, 4, on Wednesday morning during Story Time at Sparrow Specialty Coffee.