Long Beach Airport Adds Permanent Checked Baggage Inspection System and Improves Ticketing Building

Long Beach Airport Adds Permanent Checked Baggage Inspection System and Improves Ticketing Building
Kristin Shaw
Published in: 

After five years as deputy executive director for Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA), Cynthia Guidry took over as director of Long Beach Airport (LGB) in 2019. When she arrived, the Southern California airport was in the midst of a major renovation that began with the planning process in 2017.

The ongoing $110 million overhaul spans six key areas:

  • checked bag inspection operations,
  • baggage claim building,
  • ticketing building,
  • core and shell renovation of the historic terminal,
  • rental car customer service building (inside the original terminal), and
  • a “meet and greet” plaza with concessions. 


Project: Terminal Improvements

Key Components: New ticketing building; seismic retrofit for historic terminal building; checked baggage inspection area

Location: Long Beach (CA) Airport

Project Scope: 6,545 sq. ft. in checked baggage inspection area; 16,700 sq. ft. in ticketing building

Cost: $110 million

Timeline: Request for proposals issued in 2017, contract awarded that fall; design process extended into 2018; construction began in 2019; remaining improvements slated to debut by end of 2023

General Contractor: Swinerton Builders

Architect of Record: Corgan/Studio One Eleven

Key Goals/Benefits: Strengthening original terminal building & retrofitting for earthquake protection; improving ticket building; creating permanent checked baggage inspection area 

The most delicate project was renovating the shell of LGB’s historic terminal, which was built in 1941 and received historic landmark designation in 1990.

The larger ticketing building and new checked baggage inspection area opened in spring 2022. Together, these two projects accounted for nearly half of the $110 million budget for the program known as Phase II. 

Designed by Corgan and constructed by Swinerton, this round of renovations and improvements is the sequel to Phase I, a $100 million program that was completed in 2012. It delivered a new parking structure and a passenger concourse with local concessions, indoor/outdoor dining areas and a post-checkpoint garden.

When Guidry arrived at LGB in 2019, construction on Phase II was poised to begin. Then, the COVID pandemic hit.

The Pause of 2020

As travel throughout the industry came to a screeching halt in 2020, LGB officials had to determine if it made sense to advance the renovation project while revenues were at a standstill.

“Our first challenge was figuring out how to move forward after such a quick impact on passenger flow,” Guidry recalls. “We were fortunate to have cash reserves and could proceed with our program. We paused to work with not just the airport team but the contractor, city management and finance teams to strategize about how to continue with so much uncertainty. We took it step by step, milestone by milestone.”

Clear communication with carriers, tenants, concessionaires and parking companies through the transition period was critical as all parties came up with new blueprints for the uncertain future. Out of necessity, LGB slowed the timeline slightly for the beginning of the project.

“The team had to develop key decision points about how to pull the trigger for procurement, installation and more,” Guidry explains. “Our results proved that the team was working as one. Together with Swinerton, the airport studied cash flows and coordinated the required construction.”

Being flexible and learning how to pivot quickly helped the project team get through those difficult times.

“Even though the timeline required some alterations, we all worked together to sequence the project as close to the original date as possible,” says Swinerton Project Executive Jose Acosta.

Honoring Airport’s Rich History

Long Beach was a hotbed for early aviation, establishing Southern California’s first municipal airport in 1924. Before then, aircraft in the beachfront area along the Pacific Ocean had to land and take off only at low tide. Nearby, Earl Daugherty ran a flying school and pushed for a “real airfield” in Long Beach. Because of his efforts, the airport is also known as Daugherty Field. 

When the terminal building was erected, artist Grace Clements was tapped by the Works Progress Administration to create expansive works of art in mosaic tile. Clements created compositions of a large global map, birds, a ship, an oil well and a rotary-dial telephone, which were installed on the terminal floor as tributes to community pillars. At some point, the airport authority opted to cover up the historic mosaics with wall-to-wall carpet, and they remained cloaked for years.

During Phase 1, crews uncovered the tile creations, polished the hidden treasures, and the mosaics again became a focal point for the historic terminal. With more improvements underway, the mosaics still serve as a testament to the airport’s rich history. 

Retrofitting the Original Terminal

The new $25.5 million checked bag inspection system at LGB replaces a temporary system installed after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The improved facility spans 6,545 square feet and connects to the ticketing building. In addition to providing a more efficient workspace for TSA personnel, the project also restored access to the west side of the historic terminal, revealing its classic design. 

The original terminal building was also due for a “seismic retrofit” to help it withstand shakeups from occasional earthquakes. The Corgan team created a plan that required a minimal amount of remediation or the need to cut or drill holes in the original structure. Corgan and Swinerton also worked together to develop layers of protection for the historic terminal.

“The existing building is made from concrete with light steel inside, which doesn’t perform as well in an earthquake,” says Corgan Principal John Mares. “Our design team looked at ways to retrofit this iconic building and developed a method that uses high-tech composite materials like carbon fiber and other reinforced types of structures.”

For example, Swinerton used shotcrete (concrete that is pumped at high velocity through a nozzle and dries quickly) to reinforce the structure.

Literature from the American Concrete Institute explains that the impact created by the application consolidates the concrete. “Although the hardened properties of shotcrete are similar to those of conventional cast-in-place concrete, the nature of the placement process results in an excellent bond with most substrates, and rapid or instant capabilities, particularly on complex forms or shapes. The shotcrete process requires less formwork and can be more economical than conventionally placed concrete.”

Unexpected Challenges

Stephan Lum, engineering officer at LGB, notes that the original terminal is a local landmark. As such, construction plans retained the porte cochere, portholes and the west face—hallmarks of the original terminal design. 

“We are going to restore the west face to its former glory,” Lum reports. “Often, if you bring up the word ‘historic,’ a lot of contractors get nervous because you’re dealing with decades of infrastructure and things you didn’t expect pop up.”

In fact, crews discovered a number of underground utility cables and equipment that were undetectable by ground penetrating radar (GPR) scans. “Finding and relocating the utilities was one of the biggest unknowns we came across,” he reflects. “There are limitations to GPR scanning, and you just have to be very careful when excavating, working with the design team to find solutions.”

Acosta credits the design-build process, which allowed airport staff to review progress and offer feedback along the way, for helping the team successfully navigate unexpected challenges.

Mares notes that Corgan uses nondestructive investigation for utility discovery whenever possible.

“For a facility as old as this one, there were a lot of things that were not documented or recorded,” Mares says. “Ultimately, you have to decide if you want to leave the utility in place and change the building or vice versa. Depending on the size and type of utility and if it’s still in use, we needed to look at these independently. We know this will happen with older buildings, so we prefer to design a flexible foundation structure so we can bridge utilities or make modifications if necessary.”

Over and over, the team was reminded that the design-build process makes for fewer surprises overall, Acosta notes.

“From the get-go, aligning expectations was important,” he says. “The communication and transparency really came through to show we all had the same goal in mind with the same deadlines. Everyone was pushing toward a common goal.”

Two Down, Four to Go

Now that the first two components of Phase 2 are in the books, LGB is focusing on the remaining four pieces. Work is on schedule, despite a series of pandemic-related setbacks. For instance, as new protocols unfolded for passenger processing, the project team changed the infrastructure design so check-in kiosks can be moved to allow more physical distance between passengers. Initially, plans called for clusters and a more traditional layout in the ticketing area.

“One of the biggest adjustments to the planned design was in regard to the ticketing building,” Lum says. “We were designing and then building through the pandemic and maintaining as much consistency as possible while tweaking the design mid-cycle to accommodate 6-foot spacing.”

Currently, the kiosks are all physically separated, using the available space as effectively as possible.

“We learned how to future-proof this airport so that 10 years from now, this facility will still be useful and keep up with current trends,” Lum says. “This will not only improve the passenger experience and enhance the easy-going airport it has always been, but also take it a step further. It’s incredible to be able to open up the back side of a terminal building that hasn’t been exposed since 2001.”

A new consolidated baggage claim facility is currently under construction and the remaining Phase II improvements are slated for completion by the end of 2023.

Future projects will potentially include a ready-return lot for rental car operations, a ground transportation center and improvements to terminal roadways.


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