Arcata-Eureka Completes $7.4 Million Expansion

Author: 
Greg Gerber
Published in: 
November-December
2009




With 100,000 annual deplanements, the Arcata-Eureka airport in Humboldt County, CA, is small by airline standards. And after 9/11, it grew even smaller as new security requirements gobbled up nearly one-third of its terminal space.

Security lines snaked their way through the old lobby making it difficult for passengers to reach the ticket counters. Once inside, travelers huddled in a cramped, crowed corridor waiting to board their flights.

As a temporary fix, airport officials added a modular building to provide a passenger holding area. Although it sufficed for a while, it was far less inviting than the community wanted.




Facts & Figures

Project: Terminal Upgrade & Expansion

Location: Arcata/Eureka (CA) Airport

Expansion: 10,000 sq. ft.

Cost: $7.4 million

Funding: FAA grants and loan guaranteed by local economic development commission

Project Management: Mead & Hunt

Structural Design: Winzler & Kelly

Mechanical Design: Duane Heber

Jacqueline Hulsey, airport general manager, and Tyler Holmes, Humboldt County public works director of Facilities, consequently toured another local airport for ideas. On their way back, they began sketching ideas for an expansion at Aracta-Eureka on the backs of restaurant napkins.

"Like a movie, every building conveys a story, and every movie starts as a storyboard. The napkin became the storyboard for the building we wanted to design," says Holmes. "But the design is the easy part. It's all the other stuff in between that takes lots of work."

According to Holmes, a building is nothing more than a working port. In planning any design, he says, the trick is to merge all the aspects of the port in a manner that's sympathetic to humans and machines.

"People Are Our Product"

"We have to move people and equipment from one point to the next as efficiently as possible and in a way that reflects well upon the community we serve," explains Holmes. "In the aviation industry, people are our product. We have to blend passenger comfort with the very real knowledge that as a working port, the facility can be a dangerous place."

Careful planning was necessary to create a comfortable waiting area for passengers, plus ample room for Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officials to screen passengers and luggage.

"The new passenger screening checkpoint really helps move more passengers through the lines quickly," reports Paul Powers, Business Unit Leader for Aviation Architecture at Mead & Hunt. "Because the airport is smaller than most others, people tend to wait longer to arrive, which could create a bottleneck if the traffic wasn't managed properly."

The outbound baggage system, Powers notes, allows TSA to screen bags outside of public view, which helps speed the process and turn planes faster.

The overall renovation added 11,000 square feet to the 26,000-square-foot facility that was originally built in 1980. In its new configuration, the airport can process 150 people through security without bumping into other airport services. And, for the first time, TSA has "real offices" by the baggage area. Rental counters were redesigned to provide a more modern look, and a business work area was added so visitors can check e-mail using the airport's free wireless service.

"Being on the coast, we often get socked in by fog," Hulsey explains. "Having the workstations available makes it a little less inconvenient for travelers waiting for the fog to lift."





Material Needs

New lighting, greater use of natural lighting and new terrazzo to replace the former parquet wood floor make the expanded space much lighter. The floor's design and color scheme - blues, beiges, grays and greens - mimic a local landscape painting that hangs on the second floor. From the observation area above, the main level floor resembles a contour map of the local community or the topographical view passengers see from the air.

According to Holmes, the added expense of the terrazzo is countered by its superior durability vs. wood, carpeting, vinyl or tile. "There isn't any flooring material that is as resilient as terrazzo," he says. "That material is as tough as nails. The more you walk over it, the more it is polished. It was a little pricey to install because there wasn't anyone locally experienced in laying terrazzo floors. But because of its long-term ability to wear well, we'll recover that cost in significantly less maintenance and future replacement costs."

The airport's green roof, which absorbs heat in the winter but ensures that the building doesn't overheat in summer, helped meet state requirements for using energy-saving products or practices in new construction. In addition, air handling equipment was installed at ground level. It's more efficient to deliver warm or cool air from the floor and let it rise about 32 inches to the level where people sit than to move it down from 8-foot high ducts, explains Holmes.

Buying Local

Hulsey preferred to award construction work to local firms whenever possible. Because local businesses and their employees pay the taxes that helped fund the project, she felt it was important to return a significant part of that investment back to the community.

The $7.4 million project was funded by Federal Aviation Administration grants and a Headwaters loan secured by the Redwood Region Economic Development Commission. The loan, which allowed the airport to begin work immediately, was backed by future passenger facility charges.





Expense Check

Together, Holmes and Powers ensured that costs for the multimillion-dollar project remained in check, despite unexpected expenses such as walls with dry rot from nearby salt water.

"We were able to balance the costs of correcting any surprises we encountered by taking advantage of cost savings as we went along," explains Powers. "As a result, the final project came in with less than $100,000 in change orders - an exceptional feat for a project of this size."

Security equipment designed for right hand operation but destined for an area requiring left-handed workflow was another surprise that needed to be reconciled within budget.

"Security planning proved to be challenging because the needs and requirements evolved over the three-year project cycle," recalls Hulsey. The final design allows security personnel standing in key areas of the terminal to see all critical areas at once, including primary entrances and exits.

New Features

Before the expansion, there was no covered space for ramp employees during inclement weather. That forced them to take cover in storage areas and offices, which was not only uncomfortable for them, but also disruptive to work in those areas.




The airport's new covered areas are large enough to accommodate staff, luggage and some equipment. Holmes and Powers devised a way to add the extra protection without sacrificing the view of the ramp from the airport offices, which would have happened if a ceiling had simply been extended over the one-story addition.

Barrel-vaulted, glue-laminated beams and tongue-and-groove roof planks arching over the addition provided the solution. They lift the ceiling and provide covered space, yet don't obstruct managers' view of the airfield and ramp, Powers explains. Creating a roof also cost less than enclosing the entire area inside the building, he adds.

"The illusion is that the space is greater in size than it really is," says Holmes. "We lifted the ceiling to get better color variation and pointed the lights up to bounce it off the ceiling which reflected a warmer quality. The lights blend so well that people don't even notice where they are. That's one of the goals of good architecture: to be functional without anyone really noticing."

Another new feature of the expanded terminal is an airside patio and greeting area, which allows airport visitors to sit outside and watch aircraft on the ramp.





Go Team, Go

According to Holmes, designing a building is the ultimate team sport. "You have key players and spectators, special equipment and special teams," he explains. "There is a lot of activity going on at once, which requires specific data communication and an eye toward structural concerns as well. All that requires solid orchestration among all members of the design team who must work in concert with one another."

Duane Heber was considered a first-round draft pick for the mechanical design work, because he was instrumental in designing the original building 29 years ago.

"Tyler was very skilled in design," says Powers. "We worked well together as a team to refine the technical plan with the overall aesthetic qualities of the building. He helped to conceptualize a three-dimensional plan to house all the airport functional areas. From that, we created a construction document that outlined how things were to be built, and in what fashion."

The key to keeping costs down was regular, consistent communication among all stakeholders, says Hulsey. "We brought all the affected parties together from Day One," she explains. Meetings every four to six weeks informed tenants and airport staff about what was going on at the moment, and what would happen in the near future. Constant updates, she says, made them willing to endure the attendant short-term inconveniences of construction because they could mentally prepare for what was coming and adjust their work habits accordingly.

In coastal California tradition, everyone "chilled" during the construction project. And today, they work and relax in a larger, more efficient building that is more capable of meeting the demands of the traveling public.

"An airline terminal is the front door and back door to a community," Hulsey relates. "Whether people are coming to visit or leaving on business, we wanted to make sure they had a pleasant experience."

Subcategory: 
Terminals

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