Amarillo Int'l Unveils Clearly Upgraded Terminal

Rebecca Kanable
Published in: 

Project: Concourse Consolidation & Terminal Renovation

Airport: Rick Husband Amarillo Int'l Airport

Owner: City of Amarillo, Texas

Cost: $52.2 million

Prime Architect/Project Management: Shiver Megert and Associates

Design (Mechanical, Security, Airside Pavement, Boarding Bridges): Reynolds, Smith and Hills

Contractor: Western Builders

Baggage Handling System Design: BNP Associates

Baggage Handling System Production & Installation: Glidepath

Boarding Bridges: ThyssenKrupp Airport Systems

Demolition: Southwest General Contractors

Flight Information Displays: ComNet

Custom Carpet: Tandus

Furniture/Seating: Chromcraft

A $52.2 million terminal renovation at Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport, interrupted briefly by a rare flood, reminds passengers that they are at the center of the Texas Panhandle. Even the new glass boarding bridges, with all their European flair, highlight views of wide-open Panhandle plains.

A western Texas motif and the airport's astronaut namesake were top-of-mind as the project team made infrastructure improvements and consolidated two finger pier concourses into one new central concourse at the back of the terminal. Updates and additions include a new inline baggage system, new food and beverage concessions, new retail space, and renovated airline ticket counters and offices. New wayfinding elements, a terminal-wide public address system and numerous ComNet flight information displays were also added. The airport, which had 409,000 enplanements in 2010, will continue to operate five gates, but now has the ability to operate seven, if needed.

The previous terminal, built in the 1960s, had started showing wear and tear, recalls Patrick Rhodes, director of aviation for the City of Amarillo. And having two separate concourses was inefficient. Mechanical/electrical systems were duplicated in both concourses, and both sets required frequent repairs, were not energy-efficient and provided inconsistent building temperatures, Rhodes chronicles. Operational changes implemented after 9/11 created additional inefficiencies - specifically in the checkpoint and food service areas.

Discussions about improving comfort and convenience levels began in late 2004, and construction started in April 2009.

Cowboy Up

Prime architect/project manager Shiver Megert & Associates and aviation consultant Reynolds, Smith and Hills (RS&H) surveyed several hundred people about how to improve Amarillo's airport terminal. In a city that sometimes uses two cowboy boots to form the Ls in its name, consensus among airport users, businesspeople, cowboys and farmers was to maintain the airport's sense of Texas heritage. Locals also wanted to honor Rick Husband, the NASA astronaut and Amarillo native who died during the re-entry of Space Shuttle Columbia in 2003.

Rodney Bishop, vice president and aviation regional manager with RS&H, says the overall design concept that resulted relates to wide-open views. The shape of the concourse addition - a parabolic curve - maximizes the airport's panoramic vistas, and the floor plan was dubbed "Intersecting Horizons."

While the old concourses had segregated hold rooms, the new concourse has one big, open hold area to allow overflow and sharing of space. "We provided the airport with plenty of room for future expansion," Bishop says.

The meeter-greeter area, close to the hold room, provides views of the runway and is very open, replicating the openness of the Panhandle, adds Richard Constancio, Jr., architect and project manager with Shiver Megert & Associates.

Other design details were added to communicate space exploration and contemporary western themes. A large dark oval recess in the ceiling with star-like pinpoint LED lights conveys the sense of space travel, Constancio relates. A bronze statue of Rick Husband relocated to the area points to the starry space above, while terrazzo flooring below includes images of three orbits.

Custom carpet, designed by the project design team and carpet manufacturer Tandus, looks like a radar screen with shadows of planes flying over irrigation circles - common sights in the Panhandle. The themed carpet appears in the terminal, new concourse and boarding bridges.

Structural glass panels dividing the landside and airside include cattle brands of the local ranches laminated in 1/2-inch thick glass. And the overall color palette includes greens and canyon rock reds.

500-Year Flood

Challenges during construction of the concourse ranged from the typical to the unusual. The biggest expected project challenge was having the contractor work while the airport kept functioning, reports Rhodes. Before the new terminal could be built, tenants were moved into Concourse 30, which is about 28,600 square feet. Concourse 20, which was about 20,600 square feet, was demolished to create a construction staging area.

Weather topped the list of unexpected challenges. With construction well underway, the area received 11 inches of rain in just four hours - one-in-500-year conditions as the city manager describes them. Floods invaded the first floor of the terminal and dumped an estimated 1.3 million gallons of water into the 9,925-square-foot basement containing the airport's entire mechanical/electrical infrastructure. Chillers, boilers, air handlers, telephone/paging equipment, and all the electrical switchgear were submerged. To make matters worse, general contractor Western Builders president Jerry Rohane estimates updates to the systems were about 75% complete.

With rain falling from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., recovery efforts at the airport began before the sun rose. City employees, airport staff, local subcontractors and rental equipment suppliers scrambled to help. Western Builders marshaled all the portable pumps it owned and rented any others that were available, recalls Rohane.

After eight hours of constant pumping by 17 units, the water was finally gone. "With the switchgear under water and the power on, it was pretty scary," Rohane relates. "Maintaining safety was the highest priority." Getting the water out without incident was "amazing," he adds.

Having lost phone and Internet communications but with electrical power and Wi-Fi intact, airlines used laptops to access the city's server and issued hand-written boarding passes. All but one flight departed from Amarillo International as scheduled. "We're all very proud of that accomplishment," Rhodes notes.

The airport called Glidepath to deal with its submerged baggage claim devices. The company responded within three hours, restored service to the system within one hour and reinforced its nearly 20-year relationship, reports Glidepath vice president David Mead.

City officials say it's hard to determine just how much the flooding delayed the project. They did, however, award Western Builders a separate contract to make flooding repairs while new construction continued with the same project team.

Everything in the basement was seriously damaged. Rohane estimates that 80% of the airport's mechanical equipment, including all the electrical systems, had to be replaced. Pumps and chillers were broken down and rebuilt.

Floods notwithstanding, Rhodes says the project went smoothly for the most part. The public and airport tenants, he notes, were very understanding - even without air conditioning when temperatures stayed in the mid-80s for six consecutive days. "It was miserable," he recalls.

Later in the project, snowy and windy days caused delays. "We had temperatures in the low teens for an extended period of time with -40°F wind chills," recalls Rohane. "It was a very windy winter and spring. We had numerous days with 40 to 50 mph constant winds, and gusts over 70 mph."

According to Rohane, the airport's willingness to assign authority to an owner's rep (Pat Rhodes) and his ability to make timely decisions were key to the project's success. "That's absolutely important as you bump up against problems," Rohane explains. "We do a lot of projects that have to go through a bureaucracy, and that was not the case here."

Rohane also credits Shiver Megert & Associates for good design documents, and commends the larger project team for good communication.

Michael Baggett, Glidepath business development manager, says that proactive communication allowed the installation of the baggage handling system to be as smooth as possible.

Repairs from the flood damage were completed at the end of April. And in May, the city contracted KSA Engineers to design a drainage retention pond to keep water away from the terminal in the event of heavy rains.

Looking ahead, improvements that were under construction during the 2010 flood are now complete, making the airport better equipped for the next storm, notes Rhodes.

EDS on the Move

When the airport moves into its new concourse in mid-July, one of the biggest improvements will be the relocation of baggage screening equipment from the ticketing lobby to behind the scenes.

With TSA's large explosive detection system (EDS) baggage screening machines moved to the lower level of the new concourse, Rhodes says, the new 77,288-square-foot baggage area has a lot more room.

The baggage check-in process will be less labor-intensive than the old one, which required passengers to get their bags tagged by an airline, take or have them delivered to TSA for screening, and then return the bags to the airline, which then put them on a conveyor belt.

The new baggage handling system, designed by BNP Associates, consists of about 1,600 linear feet of new conveyor. Glidepath removed most of the old system, left the claim devices in place, then built and installed the new baggage handling system to BNP's specifications. The new baggage system fully integrates with Level 1 EDS machines supplied by TSA. Checked bags travel on a conveyor belt leading from the check-in counter to the inline checked baggage inspection system, where they are automatically screened by an EDS machine. TSA officers view EDS-generated images to ensure that all bags are properly inspected. Bags that require additional screening are routed to a special area, while cleared bags are conveyed to airline baggage make-up devices for loading onto airplanes.

At 30 inches between the side guards, the old system was nine inches less than today's industry standard, notes BNP project director Cal Trudeau. The new 39-inch wide system will accommodate larger bags.

In addition to moving ticketing counters farther out into the lobby, baggage system improvements led to modifications that were not part of the original plan. The changes provide access to the airline offices through a hallway rather than from behind the counters.

With separate make-up piers dedicated to individual airlines, the former baggage handling system penetrated the building and went down into the screening area in five different locations. The new common-use system will accommodate any airline's bag at any ticket counter and sort bags to the various airlines. Having only two penetrations saved the airport about $1.2 million, Trudeau estimates. Fewer turns and mergers also contribute to fewer jams and improve system reliability and uptime, he adds.

With EDS equipment out of the way, the lobby turns back into a ticketing area - much to Bishop's preference. "The ticketing lobby is, in a lot of cases, the grand hall, the grand architectural concept for the airport," he says. "TSA equipment is not designed for beauty; it's designed for function, and takes away from the total scheme of the ticketing lobby."

For the Business Traveler

From a functionality standpoint, RS&H included conveniences for business travelers such as extra power outlets, Wi-Fi coverage and charging zones with USB ports in hold areas. New Chromcraft seating in the business center allows travelers to work in a relaxing atmosphere before they board their flights.

Prior to renovations, the airport had restaurant service about six hours a day and a deli that was open from the first flight to the last. Pre-security there was a gift shop; post-security there was a snack bar and magazine stand.

The new terminal addition gives vendors prime locations and adds landside concessions, as requested by airport customers. Now, there's a restaurant, deli and bar on both sides of the security checkpoint. Gift shops are also on both sides, with a larger gift shop pre-security and a smaller shop post-security.

Other passenger amenities include new wayfinding signage, an enhanced public address sound system and several new flight information displays located throughout the terminal.

Consolidating passenger screening in one concourse and providing a more direct passage to the hold room and aircraft reduces walking distances, Constancio notes. The new design, Rhodes agrees, will be much more efficient for passengers and employees alike. "I think it will just feel like a friendlier place," he predicts.

Enjoy the View

With six Glass (Crystal) Tunnel Apron Drive Bridges from ThyssenKrupp Airport Systems, Amarillo International joins a very small number of domestic airports using clear-walled passenger boarding equipment. Elsewhere, however, they're much more common. ThyssenKrupp sales manager Tim Helm reports that outside the U.S. market, 60% or more of new bridges purchased in recent years have been glass-walled bridges. The trend is especially strong for new terminals, Helm notes.

The new bridges at Amarillo International feature a truss structure design with double-pane glass walls and are designed to service the same commercial aircraft mix as steel-walled bridges, explains Helm. Each bridge provides a point-of-use 400 Hz ground power unit for aircraft power, a point-of-use pre-conditioned air unit for aircraft cooling and tunnel air conditioning for the bridge itself.

The airport's previous steel boarding bridges were mainly utilitarian in nature - protecting travelers from the elements as they enplaned and deplaned, providing safety from ramp hazards and facilitating access to aircraft from the second floor. The new glass-walled boarding bridges serve the same functions but also extend the open-air design of recent terminal renovations through the gate doors.

"They're beautiful," Constancio raves, noting that the bridges match the green glass in the building's exterior.

Scott Crumley, ThyssenKrupp Airport Systems project manager, adds that deplaning passengers no longer walk through a tunnel. "When you get to the airport, you see daylight," he says. "It has a different feel."

The boarding bridge and baggage handling system projects were both completed under budget. In June, the overall terminal package was also tracking under budget. After the new building is turned over for occupation, Concourse 30 will be demolished.


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