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Tampa airport to add amenities for nursing moms and service dogs

Work on the new amenities is expected to be completed by next July.

TAMPA — Passengers at Tampa International Airport, take heart. Three things you ask for most are on the way:

• Nursing rooms for breastfeeding moms.

• Outdoor pet-relief areas near departure and arrival gates for service animals.

• Water-bottle refill stations.

Compared with larger projects in the airport’s $2 billion expansion program, these additions are small. Still, they are expected to resonate with passengers.

“We hear about them constantly,” airport spokeswoman Emily Nipps said Friday. Take the new spaces that will accommodate mothers and young children. “We definitely knew that we had to make some space for nursing mothers. We have family restrooms, but we recognize that that’s not always an ideal setting for nursing mothers.”

RELATED: Tampa International’s billion-dollar update is a new airport experience

So this week the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority approved a $1.4 million contract for the work with Foresight Construction Group of Gainesville. A second bidder was disqualified for not meeting the airport’s minimum requirements for using subcontracting firms owned by women or minorities.

The work is scheduled to start later this month and be completed by next July.

Airsides A, C, E and F each will get a service animal relief area and two water bottle refill stations. The airport plans to add stations at its lines to security checkpoints. That will allow passengers to take empty bottles through the security checkpoint and refill them near the gate.

“This would eliminate or reduce the need for single-use plastic bottles, which, as you know, are floating all over the world,” airport chief executive officer Joe Lopano told the aviation authority board. “If you bring your own bottle, we now have a place for you to fill it, and you can take it with you.”

Airsides A and E will get nursing rooms. Airport officials say Airside C will get a nursing room during a future renovation of its restrooms. The main terminal will get another nursing room and four relief areas for service animals.

The mother’s nursing rooms will feature comfortable seating, a baby-changing station and sink.

Tampa International Airport contracted this week to add amenities sketched here to its airsides.
Tampa International Airport contracted this week to add amenities sketched here to its airsides. [ Tampa International Airport ]

Relief areas for service animals will be on elevated decks outside each airside. Currently, once departing passengers and their animals go through security, there aren’t any relief areas available at the airsides unless they can persuade an airline employee to take them to a particular area, Nipps said.

That also means passengers bringing service dogs off a flight generally have to go to the main terminal and then get outside to find a grassy patch where their animals can do their business.

“We definitely saw the need for something like this,” Nipps said. “We have a record number of passengers flying, so we also see a record number of dogs coming through the airport, and we need to have amenities for them as well.”

In February, after hundreds of cleanups and more than a dozen injuries to people and pets, the airport tightened its rules on animals. In a crackdown on meet-and-greet pets that people bring from home, the airport banned emotional support animals that are not flying.

The new rule did not affect service animals as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act — typically dogs individually trained to perform tasks to help people with physical, sensory, psychiatric or other disabilities.

RELATED: Tampa International Airport says, keep your emotional support animal at home unless it’s flying

The planned relief areas will include artificial turf with drainage, a hose, sink and trash cans.

“You’re seeing more and more of these” relief areas at airports nationwide, Nipps said. Unlike Tampa’s, which will be outside, “some of them are right in the middle of gate areas where people sit.”