Charleston Int'l Renovates Terminal Just in Time for Record-Setting Growth

Robert Nordstrom
Published in: 

Charleston International (CHS) is no longer a "small town airport," and local officials are thrilled with the change. After six consecutive years of passenger growth, CHS broke its previous 2014 record by moving more than 3.4 million travelers through its terminal last year. Volume is up nearly 1.5 million passengers since 2010. 

During the sustained growth spurt, CHS has added new airlines and new destinations, and carriers are flying larger planes into the South Carolina airport to handle the traffic.

Project: Terminal Redevelopment & Improvement 
Location: Charleston (SC) Int'l Airport
Approx. Cost: $200 million
Funding: Airport (15%); bonds (85%)
Program Manager: Mead & Hunt

Lead Architect: Fentress Architects
Assoc. Architects: Watson Tate Savory; Liollio Architecture
Structural Engineering: Michael M. Simpson & Assoc.
Mechnanical/Electrical/Plumbing Engineering: RMF Engineering
Civil Engineering: ADC Engineering Specialists
Special Systems: Burns Engineering
Concessions Planning: Airprojects
Baggage Handling: BNP Associates
Passenger Boarding Bridges & Aircraft Services: Aero Systems Engineering
Signage: Jones Worley Design
Lighting Design: Lam Partners
Vertical Transportation: Lerch Bates
Cost Estimating: Connico 
Construction Manager at Risk: Austin Hitt Joint Venture
Electrical: Allison Smith Co.
Heating/Venting/Air Conditioning & Plumbing: Bell 
Structural Steel: Lyndon Steel Co.
Seating: Zoeftig; Miller's 
Specialized Demolition: Palmetto Civil; DECO
Millwork & Solid Surface Materials: Coastal Millwork & Supply
Concrete Work: Donleys Concrete Group
Terrazzo Flooring & Ceramic Tiles: David Allen Co.
Site Utilities: Gulf Stream Construction Co.
Jet Boarding Bridges: JBT AeroTech
Outbound Baggage Handling System: Logan Teleflex 
Inbound Baggage Handling System: Vanderlande
Curtain Walls & Specialty Ceilings: SPS Corp.
Fire Protection: PASCO
Drywall & Acoustic Ceilings: Precision Walls
Food & Beverage Management: Delaware North Co.
Retail Management: Hudson Group
Noteworthy: Airport completed terminal expansion/renovation amid unprecedented growth in passenger traffic

"Passenger traffic has more than doubled since 2001, and we know from our own studies that the growth is continuing at a rate faster than our projections," informs Charleston County Aviation Authority Executive Director and Chief Executive Paul J. Campbell, Jr. "We are already at passenger levels predicted for 2025."

Not to be forgotten, the airport executed a roughly $200 million Terminal Redevelopment and Improvement Program while experiencing dramatic and unforeseen traffic increases. Beginning in 2012, crews stripped the terminal and its two concourses down to the bones and presented a newly modernized facility to the South Carolina Lowcountry region in 2016.

Campbell readily acknowledges that managing a massive terminal renovation during unprecedented volume growth created extraordinary challenges, but he shudders to think what could have happened if the airport didn't do just that. "I don't know where we'd be and what we would have done if we hadn't expanded the terminal facilities," he reflects. "Since 2013, when the construction really took off, we've added more than a million passengers. The old terminal wouldn't have been able to handle that."

Hernan Peña, vice president of engineering for the airport authority, agrees: "The timing of this project was right on point. Most everyone now realizes that if we had delayed getting started by a couple of years, we would be in trouble now. We would not have had the capacity to handle today's traffic."

Top-to-Bottom Transformation
Three major additions expanded the terminal footprint by nearly 100,000 square feet:
• a rental car pavilion, which was constructed off the end of Baggage Claim;
• the Concourse B extension, which added five new gates; 
• and a new building adjacent to the Ticketing Hall that consolidates checkpoints in concourses A and B into a single screening area, with new administration offices above.

The airport's mechanical equipment now resides in a new Central Energy Plant, built approximately 100 yards west of the main terminal. The new facility boosts operational efficiency by consolidating systems that were previously scattered throughout the building. The airport also upgraded all of its utility systems to make the terminal more energy efficient.

Austin HITT Joint Venture served as construction manager at risk on the project, and Fentress Architects lead the design team. Together, the project team expanded the airport to 429,000 square feet. 

The new eight-lane consolidated security checkpoint is a key design component that eases burdens for travelers and TSA staff alike, notes Tom Theobald, principal of Fentress Architects. Associated changes to the concessions program brought the airport firmly into the post-9/11 era. Now, the majority of food/beverage and retail vendors are in an easily accessible airside area, he explains. 

Previously, the two concourses had separate checkpoints. After passengers moved through Security, they were trapped in dark, low-ceilinged holdrooms with window glare issues, comments Theobald. "If you sat in the middle, you didn't have enough light to read; if you sat near the window, it was too bright," he explains. "Travelers today want to be able to get to the airport, get rid of their bags, move through Security and then relax. The new checkpoint reconfiguration allows that to happen."

Food and beverage options were expanded exponentially. "In the old terminal, we only had one food area landside and one small food and beverage vendor on each concourse. Now, travelers have numerous choices for dining and shopping airside as well as landside," Peña reports. 

New dining options feature brands with connections to the local area: DeSano Pizza Bakery, Harvest & Grounds, Charleston Beer Works, and Caviar & Bananas. National chains include Dunkin' Donuts, Burger King and Jack Nicklaus Golden Bear Grill. 

The new retail lineup offers the Hudson Store, Veranda News, Tech on the Go, Low Country Harley-Davidson and Eddie Bauer. 

In addition to the new variety and volume, passengers can now move between the two concourses without incurring an extra TSA screening-a change designed to boost post-Security shopping and dining.

Essentially, no area of the terminal was left untouched, informs Steve Penson, vice president of Operations for Austin Commercial. The main terminal and concourses received all new terrazzo flooring and ceiling treatments-a complete refresh from top to bottom, he notes. 

Removing the second story of the Central Hall area to create higher ceilings and make room for a two-story glass wall was particularly challenging. "We had to detach the concrete floor from support columns, reinforce the columns and remove the floor," explains Penson. "A remote-controlled jackhammer was brought in to break up the concrete floor."

With passenger traffic increasing steadily throughout the project, the window available for construction crews to complete disruptive work shrunk accordingly. "In the beginning, the last flight arrived at 10:30 p.m., then it became 12:30 a.m.," Penson recalls. "And the first flight that used to leave at 6:30 a.m. was now leaving at 5:30 a.m. Doing heavy demolition work with passengers in the terminal proved a real challenge." 

The baggage claim area was renovated and expanded from two to three carousels in order to deliver luggage to arriving passengers more quickly and efficiently. 

In holdrooms, designers combined traditional linear seating with stools at individual and group tables to offer travelers a variety of seating options while they wait for flights. All seats in the boarding areas were equipped with power and USB ports.

Fentress Architects performed extensive studies on daylight penetration of the building. Based on the results, clerestory lighting was installed along the roofline of both concourses and in the area between Ticketing and the new TSA security checkpoint to illuminate the central spaces. Exterior overhangs and shading on walls make full use of light throughout the day, while eliminating the glare that was prevalent in the old building, Theobald explains.

"The old building had no heart," he quips. "Like the Tin Man, it had good bones, though a bit rusty, but it needed a heart."

Now, the new central atrium serves as its heart. A two-story glass wall that separates the landside and airside areas gives travelers a view through Security and onto the taxiways and runways. On the curbside exterior, glass replaced an old concrete block wall, creating a visual connection with the interior of the building. 

The pièce de résistance, however, is the 18-foot-tall glass dome that spans 1,742 square feet of floor space below and delivers light deep within the building (see Pages 8 and 9). Located in the center of the terminal, the light-filled atrium functions as the airport's main meeting area and is the first space visitors see as they enter the building.

Throughout the facility, designers drew from a color palette that reflects the local area. "In the historic area of Charleston, the houses are very colorful, with haint blue porch ceilings," Theobald explains. "The terminal's haint blue ceilings reference this Charleston tradition, giving an ethereal feel to the space."

Durable multi-colored solid surface wall panels line the back walls of ticketing and baggage claim areas. A complementary color palette of semi-random blues and greens was selected to tie together the ceiling, wall and floor.

"In Charleston, southern hospitality lives side by side with a rich urbanism," observes Curtis Fentress, design principal at Fentress Architects. "We wanted to design an airport that was polished and modern, yet captured that southern sense of openness and warmth."

Lessons Learned
Maintaining safe and efficient operations while completing a rehabilitation project that touched every component and structure of the terminal was an immense challenge, acknowledge CHS officials. During the planning stage, they realized some work would be disruptive by its very nature. 

"We learned from our early mistakes," Peña reflects. "At the beginning, we didn't communicate as well as we could have and should have. We learned that to succeed, we needed to create a team atmosphere so everyone-contractors, program manager, architect, tenants and TSA-would know what was happening, when it would happen and how it would affect them."

Mead & Hunt, program manager for the terminal redevelopment, served as the single point of contact for project information and assistance. "When tenants had an issue or problem, they brought them directly to us," explains Dennis Wiehl, program manager for Mead & Hunt. "We would then filter them out to the appropriate party to resolve the issue. With a project of this magnitude, establishing excellent lines of communication was critical."

"Our story is unique," Peña adds. "Throughout construction, we saw growth. While our tenants went through a painful process, they also benefited from that growth."

With Boeing on one side of the airport and the U.S. Air Force-Joint Base Charleston on the other, growth is not expected to let up anytime soon. "Boeing is growing rapidly," Campbell informs. "Mercedes Benz just added a plant, and Volvo is building in the area. It's important for these businesses that they have an airport that their employees can access easily to get in and out of the city. On top of that, Charleston has become a premier tourist destination with accolades from Condé Nast and Travel + Leisure."

That said, Peña and Campbell agree that there's more to do at CHS. The airport's deck parking, for instance, fills up two or three times a week, and the surface lot also sometimes reaches capacity. Officials hope to break ground on a new parking deck in 2017.

Inside the terminal, space at ticketing counters is also at capacity, and officials are evaluating ways to expand the ticketing lobby.

"These are not problems, they are challenges-good challenges," Campbell emphasizes. 


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