Public-Private Partnership Delivers New Terminal at Iqaluit Int'l

Public-Private Partnership Delivers New Terminal at Iqaluit Int'l
Author: 
Jodi Richards
Published in: 
November-December
2017

Like other airports in Canada's northernmost territory, Iqaluit International Airport (YFB) on Nunavut's Baffin Island plays a vital role connecting the region to the rest of the world. The airport's new 9,800-square-meter terminal, which opened in August, will also keep far-flung residents connected to one another, as it includes a central gathering space that will be used for local meetings and civic events as well as arrivals and departures.

In a territory with 36,000 residents and 25 communities spread over 2 million square kilometers, those kind of human connections can be just as vital as transportation connections.

YFB's new terminal is the centerpiece of a $300 million program that also included construction of a 4,500-square-meter combined services building, expanded aprons, new lighting systems and an upgraded runway. The new terminal building replaces the airport's bright yellow facility that was built in the 1980s. Air traffic control will continue to operate out of the former terminal, but the rest of the building will be repurposed.

facts&figures

Project: New Terminal
Location: Iqaluit (NU) Int'l Airport
Owner: Government of Nunavut
Project Delivery: Designed, built, financed, operated & maintained under a Public-Private Partnership
Term: 30 years
Terminal Size: 9,800 sq. meters
Cost: $300 million
Other Key Components: 4,500-sq-meter combined services building; taxiway/apron extension; new taxiway; 40,000 sq. meters of runway repairs & resurfacing; runway lighting & airside electrical upgrades
Consortium: Arctic Infrastructure Ltd. Partners, comprised of Bouygues Building Canada; InfraRed Capital Partners Ltd.; Sintra; Winnipeg Airports Authority
Construction: JV Bouygues Building Canada; Sintra
Design: Stantec
Geotechnical: EBA
Snow & Wind Modeling: RWDI
Operations & Maintenance: Winnipeg Airport Services Corp., operating as Nunavut Airport Services

PPP Canada, a federal corporation created to support innovative public infrastructure projects, provided 25% of the overall cost for the projects. In 2013, the government of Nunavut chose Arctic Infrastructure Limited Partners (AILP) to redevelop the airport. (See list 41 for list of consortium members). Nunavut Airport Services, a subsidiary of Winnipeg Airport Services Corp. (WASCO), operates YFB.

Regional Reflection

YFB's new terminal was specially designed and built around its Northern Canadian environment. It had to be hardy and well insulated to stand up to the region's extreme arctic temperatures, explains Stanis Smith, executive vice president of Stantec. At only 9,800 square meters, it is also designed to provide a high level of service, he adds.

WASCO's managing director, Michael O'Gorman, describes the terminal as beautiful, built to last and flexible. Gates can easily be changed from secure to non-secure to accommodate adjustments in day-to-day flight schedules, and the layout and electrical/mechanical systems are designed to accommodate future expansion if necessary.

Because of its location at the intersection of High Atlantic and Polar air routes, YFB plays a strategic role in both military and civilian aviation.

The terminal's single-level design eliminated the cost of elevators and escalators for passenger areas. It also decreases the walking distance to gates (the average is 165 meters) and reduces the overall building volume, which consequently reduces heating costs and makes the building more sustainable. "The ability of the airport to function with a minimal amount of maintenance is important," he explains.

Enclosed ground loading bridges are a next-step plan to protect passengers from the area's harsh climate as they transition from their aircraft to the terminal.

Window glazing was employed strategically to ensure thermal savings, and the curved, aerodynamic shape of the roof is designed to prevent buildup of drifting snow and withstand wind speeds of up to 81 miles per hour, while also adding visual appeal. The bright red exterior serves as a beacon in an otherwise stark landscape and is inspired by the red inuksuk-a figure made of stacked stones to communicate with others throughout the arctic-that appears on the Nunavut flag.

Project engineers veered from local tradition by designing YFB's new terminal to sit directly on grade. Most buildings in the area are constructed on stilts, so cold air can pass underneath the structure to keep the ground below frozen, and therefore stable, year round. The new terminal preserves the permafrost with a thermosiphon system that uses a passive system of looped pipes to move building heat away from the foundation.

Community Connection

In addition to designing the terminal for practicality and efficiency, Stantec focused on creating a sense of place and identity that celebrates the community and its heritage. "It's more than just a processor of people and bags," explains Smith. "It's an important part of the community fabric."

A central rotunda is reminiscent of the circular form of traditional Nunavut Inuit igloos. The expanse serves not only as an arrivals area, but also as a community space for public functions. The Winnipeg Art Gallery was commissioned to provide art for the new terminal, including the curved walls of the rotunda and built-in display cases.


Engineers took into account the harsh local conditions when designing and positioning the new terminal.

The project "goes beyond what one traditionally thinks of an airport being and makes it part of the community," explains Smith. 

Challenges of the North

Construction of the new terminal began in spring 2014, but planning started well in advance. Needless to say, the airport's remote location made the process challenging. 

Logistics-including delivering supplies and equipment to YFB-was a tremendous obstacle, relates Olivier Walon, project director with Bouygues Building Canada. With only three sealift deliveries per year (one at the end of July, another in the middle of summer and the final one at the end of September) scheduling and sequencing the arrival of materials and equipment required precision. "You have a timeframe of two months to get all of your materials in Iqaluit; and if you miss the boat, you may miss a year of work," Walon explains.

Transporting construction supplies and equipment by air is extremely expensive, and depending on the dimensions, they might not even fit on an aircraft. "It was a very big challenge," he adds.

Nunavut's extreme weather also abbreviates the construction season. "If you're working outside, you may be able to work only between four and six months of the year because of the temperature," specifies Walon. Initial projects had to be carefully scheduled to ensure that all exterior work was complete before the season ended, because subsequent projects during the colder months relied on those being finished first. "If you [get off schedule], then you cannot heat your building and work inside; and then the next season you are limited," he explains.

Although working in Iqaluit was a first for Bouygues, Walon says that the firm had previous experience in remote locales and is skilled at the precision scheduling needed to keep a project like YFB's on task. "The scheduling is something we are used to," he remarks. "The difficulty here is that you don't have a lot of the contingencies you may have on other projects. If you miss something, it can be a disaster."

Preparation and precision scheduling are the keys to success on such projects, Walon reflects. "There is no miracle solution or remedy to that. It's just good scheduling at the beginning and stick to the plan. And every time you don't stick to the plan, to keep it in action to get back into schedule."

A fire on the roof of the terminal building in 2015 threatened to derail the carefully crafted schedule, he recalls. Work on the building was halted for a few days, but contractors were able to make temporary repairs that allowed the rest of the project to move forward and preserved the schedule.

Subcontractors that were not familiar with working in Iqaluit's extreme environment were thoroughly briefed about conditions and expectations before the start of the project. "We sat with them, talked and explained how it would be," says Walon. "Some of them accepted the challenge, and others did not."

Finding enough housing for the labor force was another challenge. To accommodate workers, Bouygues rented a former Iqaluit hotel and also assembled a mobile camp. During peak times, it also arranged hotel and apartment rentals to provide extra capacity. "It was a bit of logistic work, but we always managed to have someplace for the [contractors] to stay and not affect the work," he notes.

LEED in the Far North

Achieving Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification adds complexity to any construction project, but it is especially challenging in the arctic, notes Walon. The team delivering YFB's new terminal took the challenge one step further and sought silver-level certification.

Obstacles emerged in several areas. For starters, it was not an option to earn credits by using local materials to avoid the impact of associated transportation. Instead, the team focused on credits it could achieve in the arctic north.

Air quality credit, which is often tough to come by, was one of the team's specific targets. "Most construction sites do not apply for this credit," Walon notes, explaining that last-minute painting and other product fumes make it hard to achieve. By allowing enough time in the construction schedule to flush the building with fresh air, the team at YFB received positive results on its air quality tests and netted the associated LEED points.

Reducing energy consumption was another focus. A combined heat and power unit uses the heat that is generated producing electricity for the terminal to warm spaces inside the building.

The final report supporting the project's application for LEED silver certification was sent to the Canada Green Building Council at the end of July.

Reflecting back on the project as a whole, Walon notes that continuous communication and early stakeholder involvement were particularly important while building YFB's new terminal. Iqaluit's challenging conditions and the unique public-private partnership that drove the project made the commonly cited factors vital, he explains. "There is no way to work alone and then get people involved."

O'Gorman, who manages the entity that will operate the terminal, agrees wholeheartedly: "It's the people and the collaborative approach of the consortium that make this project successful."

Subcategory: 
Terminals

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