The airport terminal in Gander is set to see a major upgrade, one that will change — but mostly keep — the celebrated international departures lounge.

The Gander International Airport Authority announced Wednesday that it is planning to move ahead with a renovation of its existing terminal building. The building will be shrunk, and the electrical and mechanical systems will be replaced.

Construction costs are pegged at $26.4 million for the project, which is proposed to tear down about 31 per cent of the building in a bid to lower energy costs.

"The building is oversized, it's passed its useful lifespan," airport CEO Reg Wright told CBC Radio's Central Morning Show. "We believe as we go forward, we really need to get that cost down."

GIAA Record Numbers

Reg Wright is the CEO and President of the Gander International Airport Authority. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

The airport spent about $1.2 million on operating and maintenance costs in 2016, Wright said. The proposed renovations are expected to save about $200,000.

According to Wright, some work will be done on the international departures lounge, which was put on a list of endangered places by the Heritage Canada-National Trust in 2014.

That was after the airport said it intended to build a whole new terminal. However, the new renovation plan means the lounge will be refreshed and adapted into a waiting area for domestic flights.

"The historic essence that is the international lounge remains completely as is, with some restoration and upgrading," said Wright.

A moveable partition will be added, so that the space can also be used as a waiting area for international passengers when needed.

"I've always been a big fan of that space," said Wright. "People have a deep resonance and affection for it, so this just lets us celebrate it."

The project is moving ahead, in part, because of a rule change which means some smaller Canadian airports can get access to federal infrastructure money.

Since that rule has changed, Wright said he's already had discussions with federal government representatives about competing for funding.

The baggage claim area of the airport will also be expanded, the airport authority says, as it has been cramped in recent years.

Gander airport renovations

The proposed redesign of the Gander Airport departures lounge, left, compared to the current look. (Submitted by GIAA, CBC)

"It doesn't help that on average every Newfoundlander brings 2.2 family members to greet them," joked Wright. "It becomes a little bit of a mosh pit, for lack of a better word."

The CEO estimated it will take at least 18 months after the money is secured to begin construction.

With files from Central Morning