MidAmerica Airport Expands, Renovates to Meet Passenger Growth

MidAmerica Airport Expands, Renovates to Meet Passenger Growth
Jodi Richards
Published in: 

Big things are happening in the middle of the United States. This summer, MidAmerica St. Louis Airport (BLV) in Mascoutah, IL, celebrated the grand opening of its newly expanded and renovated terminal. The $34 million project added 42,000 square feet, nearly doubling the terminal size to help respond to tremendous passenger growth in recent years.

The Southern Illinois airport also serves a healthy volume of military traffic. Owned by St. Clair County and shared by Scott Air Force Base, BLV is one of only 21 joint-use airports in the United States.

Airport Director Bryan Johnson says the four-year expansion project that is nearly complete matches the region’s economy. Adjacent to the airport, Boeing is constructing a naval drone production facility, and a 5.5-mile extension of MetroLink will connect Scott Air Force Base to BLV, creating a direct line to St. Louis Lambert International (STL) in 2025. “That will be a significant year for the airport,” says Johnson, who recently accepted a position as executive director of the Johnson County Airport Commission in Kansas.


Terminal Expansion & Renovation

MidAmerica St. Louis Airport

Owner: St. Clair County, IL

New Space: 42,000 sq. ft.

Renovated Space: 53,500 sq. ft.

Cost: $34 million

Funding: $31 million in federal & state FAA grants; $3 million from St. Clair County

Construction: Dec.
2019-June 2023

Master Plan Consultant: 
Crawford, Murphy & Tilly

Architecture, Structures, Interior Design: HOK

Civil Site Design: Crawford, Murphy & Tilly Engineering

Construction Manager at Risk: Holland Construction

Operational Readiness Team: Axis ORAT

Consulting Engineer: VoltAir

IT & Security: Faith Group

Baggage Handling System: BNP

Cost Estimating: Connico

Signage: Kuhlmann-Leavitt

Vertical Circulation: Lerch-Bates

Exit Lane Breach Control: 

Baggage Handling System: DCI

Boarding Bridges: 
TK Airport Solutions

Furniture: Airport Seating Alliance; Grand Rapids Chair; Martin Brattrud

Signage: Ace Sign

Elevators/Escalators: Schindler

Food & Beverage Vendor: 
Tailwind Hospitality Inc.

Key Benefits: More terminal space to accommodate increasing passenger volume & TSA screening requirements; improved passenger amenities; meeting Americans with Disabilities Act requirements

Passenger traffic at BLV has been growing steadily, even setting records in 2021 and 2022 amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Allegiant Air is currently the airport’s sole carrier, but officials expect to attract other low-cost carriers soon.

The airport’s strong local passenger base and parallel runways, which allow for simultaneous takeoffs and landings, are key selling points as the airport seeks to add service. “That really plays well for the airport when I visit with air carriers and other aerospace industry leaders as they look to develop business here,” Johnson notes. “It’s been a big driver for us, especially in the last two or three years.” Additionally, a new 3,100-foot taxiway between the future aviation development (Boeing) and BLV’s runways was recently completed for $37.7 million.

Johnson describes BLV as an ultra-low cost carrier airport that nicely fits a local niche. “We focus on operating very efficiently and effectively,” he says. “Here in the St. Louis metro area, there’s a tremendous interest in the leisure market, and we’ve matured in a way where we can support the ultra-low-cost carrier model a bit better than STL.”

Since opening in 1997, BLV has undergone minimal updates and renovations. Key goals for the current expansion project were increasing capacity and meeting requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Beyond doubling the overall terminal space, the four-phase initiative will accommodate TSA passenger processing requirements, improve passenger amenities and modernize the airport’s existing facilities.

“We’re creating a pleasant, positive experience so people can enjoy their travel,” Johnson says. “We want to lessen anxiety; we want it to be comfortable, convenient and affordable.”

Expand and Refresh

In May 2019, Phase 1 of the project kicked off with infrastructure to support the expansion. Phase 2, development of the new terminal expansion structure, began in September 2020. In March 2022, work inside the new terminal structure and renovations to the existing facility proceeded as part of Phase 3; and design for the final Phase 4 to create a new international arrivals facility began earlier this year.

The project was based on assessments and forecasts made by Crawford, Murphy & Tilly during the master planning process in 2017. Ty Sander, a senior vice president with the firm, explains that although BLV is a relatively young airport, the terminal was designed and developed to pre-9/11 security standards. When passenger and baggage screening processes changed, the airport did its best to accommodate the new regulations, “but it was a bit awkward in the space,” says Sander.

Accessibility requirements also changed over the years. Most of all, the terminal was reaching capacity limits from an operations perspective and simply needed more space as commercial traffic continued to rise rapidly. In the 2010s, BLV jumped from around 10,000 enplanements to nearly 160,000 in 2019.

HOK joined the airport’s expansion project in mid-2018 as it moved from initial concept into early design. Like any facility of its time, BLV needed general updates to meet current standards and customer expectations. “Travelers want a lot more natural lighting and pleasant colors,” Johnson relates. “And wayfinding signage is very important.” They also expect Wi-Fi access, plenty of charging outlets and a variety of food and beverage options. Tailwind Hospitality Inc. was brought on as the new food and beverage vendor to offer a “fresh look, fresh brand.”

Overall, the expansion doubles the terminal’s square footage with two new floors and a partial basement. The basement was added to provide shelter during tornados and other hazardous Midwest weather events. “We’ve got the ability to place 900 people in the basement very comfortably, if needed,” Johnson notes.

The ground floor of the expansion includes two TSA passenger screening lanes (with space for a third), TSA offices and staff facilities, an expanded baggage handling area with in-line screening for checked bags and a new service entrance. Passenger flow is significantly improved, elevating the passenger experience, Sander notes. Previously, screening was shoehorned into the space.

The second floor is primarily an expanded boarding lounge with two new gates, family-assist restrooms, a room for nursing mothers and a service animal relief area. One of the two ground boarding stairways was filled in and the space was converted to a business-style boarding lounge.

Arriving passengers now pass through an integrated exit lane breach control system on their way to the terminal landside. New airport administration offices are also located here.

As passenger numbers have grown, so has the size of aircraft serving BLV. Eventually, this led to cramped, inadequate holdrooms. “When you go from having 30- or 50-seat aircraft to 100-seat aircraft, you have a lot more people waiting,” Sander notes.

Originally constructed with four gates—two ground and two elevated—operational changes limited BLV to using just three. The current expansion project added two more, bringing the total to five. 

The project includes renovations throughout the existing 53,500-square-foot terminal to better accommodate passengers with disabilities. Changes include a larger elevator, accessible seating and a curbless roadway at the terminal entrance.

BLV’s original two-story, glass-façade terminal features a distinctive arched roof with structural piers clad in buff tan precast concrete panels. The addition incorporates its glass and precast materials “in a form that maintains the original building and its public entrances as the focal point of the overall composition and extends the canopy across its full length,” explains HOK Principal David Camp. 

Inside, finishes and signage throughout the existing facility were refreshed to align with those in the addition and present a clean, modern aesthetic with improved flow from the curbside to gates.

Johnson says the design was created with customers in mind. Passenger-centric amenities include in-seating charging ports, a variety of seating options, filling stations for water bottles, upgraded concessions and improved, standardized wayfinding and signage.

Civil work included relocating select parking lots, relocating and expanding some utilities and renovating the front curb area. With two added passenger boarding bridges, Crawford, Murphy & Tilly updated pavement markings and aircraft parking plans. The firm was also instrumental in helping the airport secure FAA funding for the projects.

Delivery Method Was Key

The project was largely funded by $31 million in federal and state FAA grants. The other $3 million came from St. Clair County, which owns the civilian portion of the airport. Johnson notes that BLV leaders provisioned for future operational demands, but passed on substantial upgrades to stick to their solid financial plan and budget for the expansion project.

For example, BLV deferred adding electric generators to the passenger terminal building. The other key factor that drove some decisions is the issue facing nearly all construction projects—supply chain logistics. “It really caused some items to balloon in prices,” Johnson explains.

From Sander’s perspective, one of the biggest challenges was coordinating the available funding with the project’s various phases. “We knew the FAA grant funding was going to come over a period of three or four years,” he recalls. “What we didn’t know is how much money they were going to get in any individual year until right before FAA was able to give it.”

Construction was divided into three phases correlated with the airport’s incremental funding requirements:

  • site work and utilities,
  • expansion structure and enclosure,
  • interior fit-out, and
  • renovation of the existing terminal’s public areas and curbside.

Using a construction manager-at-risk process allowed the project financial flexibility. “We had cost estimates in place, but they were able to find some savings that gave us extra resources elsewhere,” Johnson explains.

Synching up funding and phasing was a challenge, but it fostered collaboration among the project team. “It brought the whole team together,” Sander relates. “Each year, when FAA was able to issue grants, our team looked at the overall project and determined the most efficient, most effective way to take that number of dollars, put it into construction and get us to a point where we could wait for the next funding piece to come into place, allowing the project to keep moving forward.”

From the outside, the project pieces appeared to fit together naturally, but managing the flow of funds and phasing required a lot of effort behind the scenes.

“We had a real robust team,” Johnson says, adding that coordination was cultivated through relationship-building and weekly (if not more frequent) meetings.

“They did a good job reacting to all of the different pressures we could have never anticipated,” Sander says. Despite a global pandemic, rising inflation, a tight labor pool and material shortages, the construction manager-at-risk delivery method and flexibility of BLV’s chosen partners kept the project on schedule. Additionally, close collaboration between HOK and builders throughout staging and phasing ensured that essential life safety systems remained fully operational during construction.

Navigating material and labor disruptions was a challenge. “To keep the project on track, we worked with the builders to consider a lot of substitutions and alternate installation methods,” Camp says.

“The CMAR (construction manager-at-risk) process really did allow the airport the right balance of flexibility and functionality,” Sander adds.

Preparing the Way

The airport engaged Axis ORAT to provide operational readiness activation and transition (ORAT) services for the project. From Johnson’s perspective, working with an ORAT team helped allocate internal resources more efficiently. “With the complexity of vertical construction—design, architectural features—ORAT services really were a game-changer for us,” he reflects. From asset tracking to executing the move, having an experienced team manage the process allowed airport staff to focus on their day-to-day responsibilities.

To start, Axis met with stakeholders—everyone from maintenance and operations staff to airline and TSA employees. This helped build engagement with the project and also gathered valuable feedback about the initial design, explains Kyle Elliott, co-founder of Axis ORAT.

For example, the soap dispensers specified for restrooms in the new building were different from dispensers in the existing terminal. Custodial staff suggested making the equipment consistent throughout the facility. “That was great feedback, because it ended up being quite a big savings operationally to not maintain multiple different products for restocking,” says Elliott. 

Axis also coordinated project phasing, including detailed contingency plans, and orchestrated the complex overnight move of the TSA checkpoint from the second floor to the first. “All of the equipment had to be broken down and taken out of a second-floor window, coordinated and assembled airside, installed in the new building and then reconnected to go through Site Acceptance Testing,” Elliott explains. “It was a really critical move to get everything up and going so we didn’t impact operations.”

A detailed minute-by-minute timeline that started after the last flight at 10 p.m. on a Monday dictated the process. As planned, the first checkpoint lane was up and running by 1 p.m. on Tuesday, and the second came online that evening. Because there were no flights out of BLV in that time, operations were not impacted during the transition.

Phasing renovations in the existing terminal was tricky due to limited facilities—such as, two baggage claims and only one set of restrooms. “That was a big piece we spent a significant amount of time on,” Elliott recalls. Working with contractors and stakeholders, Axis carefully segmented and phased renovation of the existing 53,500 square feet to ensure a smooth journey for customers. The ORAT team walked each space to anticipate and mitigate any operational obstacles or other changes that would impact passenger comfort. “That customer journey piece—not forgetting about them, and going out and trialing it—is really important,” emphasizes Elliott.

Architects extended a canopy across the length of the new addition but maintained focus on the arched roof and entrances of the original building.

To minimize disruptions to operations during construction, the existing curtain wall was kept in place where the expansion abuts the existing building. “This required close collaboration with the manufacturer of the curtain wall, the builders and structural engineers to assure the integrity of the wall as we connected the expansion to it and made openings in it to facilitate access,” Camp explains.

Crews moved the screening checkpoint from the second floor to the first in a single night.

Connecting the new and existing facilities proved challenging from a technology perspective. “There were a lot of unknowns with the existing equipment—if it would support the new equipment and how it would all play together and talk to each other,” Elliott recalls.

Looking Ahead

In August, BLV had moved onto design of Phase 4 of the project, the build-out of a new single-story U.S. Customs and Border Protection federal inspection station and an apron expansion that dovetails with the terminal building expansion.

Johnson notes that the careful planning and response to regional growth are designed to position the 25-year-old airport for the future. “Plan, process and time,” are the three key ingredients of a terminal expansion, he says. “And the more you can lean in early, the more success you’ll have.”

Camp emphasizes the importance of having a solid master plan, “so you know how the current work fits into the larger scheme, and how to stay out of the way of future projects.

“Opportunities that are not apparent during design can emerge during construction,” he adds. “So stay engaged during construction and have a generous contingency on hand.”


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