Birmingham-Shuttlesworth Int'l Strips Terminal to Bones & Rebuilds

Author: 
Robert Nordstrom
Published in: 
November-December
2014

Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport (BHM) celebrated the $201 million renovation of its terminal and concourses in August; but "renovation" doesn't fully convey the magnitude of its transformation.

During the nearly four-year project, crews stripped BHM's old 1970s terminal to its skeleton and completely reconstructed the facility - nearly doubling its size from 235,000 square feet to 455,000 square feet. The Alabama airport also gained a new concourse and Federal Inspection Station, consolidated security into a single checkpoint, added a new baggage screening system and much more.

"The old facility was in disrepair," explains Alfonso Denson, president and chief executive officer of the Birmingham Airport Authority. "The infrastructure was no longer able to accommodate what we needed in order to offer the public and our stakeholders a first-class facility. Our only option was to strip everything down to the steel beams and rebuild. In the process, we were able to expand the footprint and add a lot of other great features to the facility."

factsfigures
Project: Terminal Reconstruction
Location: Birmingham-Shuttlesworth Int'l Airport
Cost: $201.5 million
Funding: $62 million passenger facility charge bonds; $50 million airport bonds; $41.8 million Airport Improvement Program grants; $16.1 million passenger facility charges; $14.3 million TSA; $6.5 million FAA Voluntary Airport Low Emissions Program; $10.8 million Birmingham Airport Authority
Architecture & Design: KPS Group
Construction Manager at Risk: Brasfield & Gorrie/BLOC (joint venture)
Program Manager: A.G. Gaston
Mechanical, Electrical, Plumbing & Fire Protection: KHAFRA
Lighting Design: SSOE Engineering
Structural Engineering (new construction): MBA Engineers
Structural Engineering (renovations): LYBD Engineering
Civil Engineering & Airfield Electrical Engineering: Atkins
LEED Consultant, Commissioning: Interface Engineering
Geotechnical Testing: Terracon
Materials Testing: BECC
Stormwater Monitoring: Building & Earth
Code Consultant: Rolf Jensen & Assoc.
Surveying: Carr & Assoc.
Field Representative: Dorsey Architects & Assoc.
Baggage Handling & Security Screening Systems: Cage
Concessions Planning & Design Standards: Leighfischer
Schedules & Estimates: Hill Int'l
Airport Terminal Planning: Jacobsen Daniels Assoc.
Information Technology & Public Announcement System: L'Acquis Engineering
IT Wiring: CHA Consulting
Interiors: Margaret Jones Interiors
Passenger Boarding Bridges: ThyssenKrupp
Seating: Arconas
Living Wall: Green over Grey
Children's Play Areas: International Play Co.
Signage & Wayfinding: Jones Worley
Acoustics & Audiovisual: EDI Ltd.


The airport authority's overarching goal for the new terminal was to minimize operating costs and maximize efficiencies in order to extend the useful life of the facility for at least another 20 years and allow for future growth, Denson notes.

Budget & Funding First

Seeds for BHM's Terminal Modernization Project were planted a decade ago, when the airport authority began strategizing about how to bring the 1970s terminal into the 21st century - and what kind of budget that would require. Discussions with the airlines and customer surveys helped establish strategic goals, and the airport authority began thinking about how the project would be funded.

It contracted KPS Group to design the facility, and later hired a joint venture of BLOC and Brasfield & Gorrie as construction manager at risk to help define costs.

"We wanted to do things right on the front end - define the costs before we started," Denson recalls.
"We lined up the federal funding with TSA and FAA, got the passenger facility charge application approved. We made sure that the cost to the airlines would not be unreasonable (approximately $50 million of the $201 million total cost)."

Defining the budget clearly, and early in the process, proved strategic. "When we started the project, the challenges were not as great as they would have been if we hadn't done the front-end work," he reflects. "I'm proud to say we came in on schedule and budget."

Gray Plosser, principal and project director for KPS Group, notes that the airport authority wanted to be "very transparent" throughout the capital program. "They wanted the support and agreement of their prime tenants and a project for which they could secure funding and financing," Plosser explains.

Staying Operational

Planners split the project into two phases. But before construction began, crews spent four months rearranging the facility to facilitate operations throughout the ensuing work. In addition to relocating and consolidating the airport's two security checkpoints, crews moved the ticketing lobby, boarding areas and five rental car companies.

The first phase of construction, which lasted 23 months, included demolition of the old air cargo facility, Concourse B and the north portion of the terminal. A new Concourse A was built, and Concourse B and the north portion of the terminal were reconstructed. Upon completion, the airport relocated five airlines and other tenants from the operational portion of the terminal and Concourse C into the new facilities in an overnight move.

Concourse C and the south half of the terminal were demolished and reconstructed during the 17-month second phase. The new building houses the airport authorities' administrative offices, two airlines and other tenants. Concourse C was shortened in the process, to avoid conflict with a future taxiway relocation, notes Plosser.

The physically active portion of the project - including preliminary reshuffling, demolition and reconstruction - was completed in 44 months.

The new configuration of the concourses required associated airside changes. Throughout construction, crews repaired and adapted the apron to the new layout, which also prompted extensive storm sewer and utilities work.

The construction manager at risk approach allowed BHM to rely on just one contractor to manage the multiple facets of the project under a single contract, notes Brasfield & Gorrie Project Manager Jeff Hart.

"Our primary objective was to ensure daily airport operations during construction," Hart reports. "The project team conducted numerous planning sessions with airport representatives and subcontractors to ensure that construction did not impede airport operations."

Security was another top priority. "The airport provided guidelines ... and we scheduled daily coordination meetings to discuss tasks, plans and concerns," Hart elaborates. "In addition, each crew held safety meetings daily to discuss job hazards."

During construction of concourses A and B, walls and fencing were used to separate construction areas from secure operational areas, adds KPS Group Project Manager Gary Kimbrell. "Although all workers had security badges, the construction site was unsecured, which gave contractors free access to the work site," he explains.

Efficiencies & Amenities

Creating a single, centralized security checkpoint and connecting the three concourses on the airside of the new checkpoint were primary goals of the project.

"The old terminal had two passenger security checkpoints," Plosser informs. "Consolidating passenger screening at one location was a huge improvement because TSA no longer had two separate locations, which was inefficient in terms of staffing and equipment use."

A new $15 million inline baggage system, which allows all baggage screening to occur on the lower level instead of the departures level in the old terminal, is another marked improvement.

"The new screening system makes life much easier for TSA," notes Plosser.

Changes are proving popular with customers as well. In fact, improvements to passenger and baggage screening are some of the most widely appreciated elements of the entire project, reports Plosser. "It makes travel much more convenient for the public."

Improved screening systems, however, exemplify the authority's broader primary objective: creating an environment that would improve passengers' overall travel experience. As such, designers introduced more daylight throughout the terminal and used a lighter, brighter color palette. The new layout eliminates steps and keeps travelers under cover when entering and exiting the terminal.

Concourses and holdrooms were designed to be much more comfortable, with greater seating capacity and variety. In addition, travelers now have free Wi-Fi access throughout the facility. Wayfinding signs and flight information displays, all of which are backlit with LED lighting, were also dramatically improved, Plosser adds. 

Concessions were also overhauled, as airport officials considered the previous mix in the old terminal a big problem - particularly the food and beverage offerings. The new terminal's lineup combines local and national brands for both retail and food/beverage. Offerings include Jim 'N Nick's, Chick fil A, Ebony Newsstand, Alabama Sports Hall of Fame, Talladega Grill and Alabama Store.

In addition, the airport added family restrooms, private nursing rooms and a meditation room. A local children's museum sponsored the installation of a play area in each concourse.

Public restrooms were designed in two symmetrical halves, with porcelain tile walls for improved appearance and cleaning ease. In its old terminal, maintenance staff had to close entire restrooms for cleaning. Now, they can close half of the restroom for cleaning and leave the other half open for public use.

Designers specified terrazzo flooring throughout the terminal and concourses. Replacing the old terminal's tile flooring significantly improved acoustics, notes KPS Group's Kimbrell. "With the advent of roller luggage, the 'click, click, click' was very noisy. The new terminal is much quieter," he reports.

Going Green

As part of BHM's comprehensive sustainability program, its new facilities include a high-efficiency heating, ventilation and air conditioning system and a sunlight harvesting system designed to reduce the use of artificial light.

High-efficiency elevators, escalators and baggage conveyance are also part of the strategy. Rooftop tanks collect and store rainwater, which is then used to flush toilets.

"The airport actually sits in a flood plain," Kimbrell explains. "By collecting the rainwater and reusing it, the airport essentially removed approximately five acres from the floodplain by reducing the amount of runoff that ends up in the stream running through the middle of the airport."

BHM stresses sustainability in its daily operations by using "green" cleaning products and environmentally conscious landscaping practices. It also administers a recycling program for passengers and airport tenants alike. 

Reducing the terminal's influx of outside air by 50% to 70% was another one of the project's environmental victories - but not an easy one.

"Air infiltration in airports is very challenging with all the loading bridges, doorways, people coming in and out," explains Plosser. "The building envelope (at BHM) is one of the most efficient we have ever done in terms of its average R-value (a measure of thermal resistance/insulation efficiency). The roof is light reflecting, and the glass used throughout the terminal is very efficient thermally. All the glass is shaded with louvers or north facing. Light monitors were installed in the concourses, allowing the airport to operate concourses using virtually no artificial lighting during daytime hours if the sun is out."

Given the numerous environmental features of its new facilities, the airport plans to apply for silver certification of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design from the U.S. Green Building Council.

Prepping for the Future

BHM's new terminal has 19 gates, with room for four more when the need arises. Currently, the airport moves approximately 2.6 million passengers per year through its terminal; but the new facilities can "easily handle double that amount," says Denson.

With the addition of the new Concourse A, the airport created space to add a Federal Inspection Station. The new Customs and Border Protection facility can process approximately 400 passengers per hour, with space available to expand and accommodate an additional 180 passengers per hour.

"We included the Federal Inspection Station in order to pursue international air traffic in the future," Denson explains. "It doesn't guarantee anything; but it gives us the opportunity to begin marketing the airport for international traffic. That's part of our long-term strategy." 

Living Wall is Literal Example of Facility's Green Features

Equal parts art, interior landscaping and environmental statement, the living wall at Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International (BHM) is turning heads at the recently renovated Alabama airport. The verdant exhibit stands 14 feet tall and stretches 100 feet along a passenger walkway between concourses B and C.

In addition to adding visual color and texture, the vertical garden is engineered to improve the airport's indoor air quality by removing common pollutants. It also enhances acoustics by absorbing ambient noise.

The unique feature, designed by the Canadian company Green over Grey, features 60 different species of Alabama vegetation. Varieties include orchids, insect-eating plants and even a special pineapple hybrid, which will bear fruit for harvest.

Gaynell Hendricks, chairman of the Birmingham Airport Authority, considers the feature a picturesque way to convey BHM's regional identity. "We feel that this beautiful, lush living wall is an example of our lush and beautiful state," Hendricks told local media.

A fabric quilt created by a local artist served as the pattern for the wall's design, which is formed by roughly 8,000 individual plants held in place by panels covered with recycled fabric. An automatic irrigation system delivers water and nutrients to the special soil-free system to minimize ongoing maintenance for airport personnel.

According to Green over Grey, BHM's living wall is the largest of its kind at any U.S. airport. The company also designed several similar installations at Edmonton International Airport in Alberta. One depicts cloud formations and air currents; others are based on paintings by Canadian artists.

Mike Weinmaster, chief designer for Green over Grey, hopes his creations will reintroduce airport visitors to nature and excite them about its wonders.

Subcategory: 
Terminals

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