Nantucket Memorial Expands & Modernizes Without Losing Island Charm

Greg Gerber
Published in: 

Running an airport is challenging enough without having to worry about where to get power or how to segregate secure and non-secure travelers. But those are just a few of the challenges that prompted Nantucket Memorial Airport to undertake a $29 million terminal expansion and improvement project.

Located on the island of Nantucket, 25 miles from the Massachusetts coastline, the island's population varies greatly - from 15,000 residents in January to nearly 60,000 in July, when traffic from Newark, New York and Washington peaks.

Handling the seasonal crowds in a terminal built in the 1950s was especially challenging. Although some modifications to the terminal's electrical and plumbing systems were made a few decades ago, there were only two bathrooms in the entire facility. Because they were both located on the pre-security side, customers and staff using the facilities had to be re-screened to re-enter the terminal.

With 250,000 annual passengers and 50+ workers, the building's shortcomings became painfully obvious. Electrical outlets were scarce and with no air conditioning, the sticky and humid environment made sitting or standing uncomfortable. The roof was simply extended over pavement and employees worked and passengers relaxed in the open air.

Facts & Figures

Project: Terminal Upgrade & Expansion

Location: Nantucket (MA) Memorial Airport

Renovation: 12,000 sq. ft.

Expansion: 18,000 sq. ft.

Cost: Almost $29 million

Funding: $12 million state grant, $12 million airport FAA AIP funds; almost $5 million airport revenues

Owner's Construction Manager at Risk: Skanska USA

Owner's Project Manager: Jacobs

Architect: AECOM in association with Nantucket Architectural Group

Inline Baggage System Designer: BNP Associates

Inline Baggage System Engineer/Manufacturer/Installer: The Horsley Company

Added Challenge: Construction materials, labor and fuel must be barged to the island airport.

The terminal also needed changes to accommodate the airport's unusual mix of passengers, of which fully 60% fly to the "mainland" on nine-passenger Cessna 402 air taxis. "We are in a unique situation," explains general manager Al Peterson. "The bulk of our customers come through the airport on a daily basis as commuters. They are bringing their saws, tools and nail guns with them as they go to work. Obviously they needed to be segregated from other commercial airline traffic."

The airport's uncommon security requirements and a desire for more modern facilities led Peterson and his staff to spearhead a project that ultimately renovated 12,000 square feet of the original building and added 18,000 more square feet.

Maintaining the Island Charm

Because the entire island of Nantucket is classified as a "unique architectural district," new construction cannot detract from the island's distinctive appearance and must comply with strict codes adopted by the island government. For example, no building can be more than 30 feet tall and is required to have cedar shingles with painted trim.

"They are natural shingles that turn grey from the salt air, weather nicely and then turn light grey," explains Peterson. "So after a few years, our new building will look similar to the older section and the rest of the island."

Design details notwithstanding, the new building greatly improved the airport work environment, says Peterson - especially the addition of eight restrooms. The area between the ticket counters and the wall was also expanded from 10 feet to 20, giving staff and passengers much more room to maneuver.

To save space, designers angled the ticket counters to allow staff to service passengers without crowding other passengers using kiosks to check in. "By angling the counters we were able to open up the space in the ticketing area without resorting to the creation of que lines," notes Peterson. "We were able to create a functional space that looks really good."

The old terminal building was virtually gutted and rebuilt as all the structure's plumbing and electrical systems needed to be replaced. But even bigger changes were made to security measures.

Necessary Separation

As the only airport on the small island, Nantucket Memorial handles secure and non-secure flights from the same building. People using the air taxi service don't need to go through security screening, while those boarding other commercial flights have to be screened and segregated.

"Part of the design challenge was trying to figure out how to satisfy the latest TSA security requirements for baggage and passengers taking regularly scheduled flights, while maintaining the easy use and access required by air taxi services," says Ray Porfilio, vice president of project architects AECOM.

Secure and non-secure passengers can't mix, so the terminal has to act first as a sifter, then a buffer to keep both groups distinct and separate. The work of local artists helps the airport preserve its island atmosphere while creating the necessary separation.

"The airport basically functions as a giant gallery with several hundred works of art prominently displayed in the ticketing hall, security corridor, waiting areas and baggage claim," says Porfilio. "Each piece features the name of the artist and contact information in case someone would like to buy the piece. Not only is it a really neat way to pass time while visiting the airport, it also conveys a feeling to visitors that Nantucket is a special place with a sound artistic tradition."

Green Gains

Making the building self-sufficient was a top priority for AECOM architects. Barging energy to the island is an expensive proposition; so, using oil, natural gas or even propane was out of the question. Consequently, the airport opted for a geothermal system to provide heat in the winter and air conditioning in the summer. Three wells pump water from the ground into heat pumps that extract heat from the water and funnel it into the building while returning water to the ground via three diffusion wells.

"It's a very efficient way to control the temperatures within a building," says Peterson, noting that the airport followed U.S. Green Building Council guidelines when possible, but didn't seek certification to save the associated administrative costs.

"For example, we didn't want to go to the extra expense of certifying where our lumber came from," he explains. "But, we recycled as much as we possibly could during the construction process."

As old sections of the building were demolished, concrete, pavement and other hard materials were crushed and used as gravel on island roads.

The old taxiway lights were replaced with light-emitting diodes from ADB Airfield Solutions that are expected to provide reliable lighting for years at a fraction of the cost of traditional bulbs. Light bulbs in the new building are also energy efficient. The airport contracted with National Grid to make recommendations and supply the facility with lights guaranteed to save the airport money.

Even the airport's new inline baggage system, designed by BNP Associates, is expected to use less energy - both human and from the utility company. The Horsley Company engineered, manufactured and installed the system.

"The new baggage system will really help us save a lot of manpower in the future," notes Peterson. "And the entire operation will ensure that we see a significant reduction in our carbon footprint and save a lot of money in utilities."

According to AECOM, the airport staff was "forward-thinking" in the way it approached the project. "They'll be enjoying lower costs for years," says Porfilio.

Incorporating a significant part of the old building into the new structure, he notes, allowed for the creation of a smaller addition without compromising the airport's ability to handle current and future growth.

"That's one of the most basic approaches to sustainable building - figuring out how to reuse what you already have," he explains.

Many of the airport's design features focus on reducing energy costs. As a result, the airport looks like a traditional building from the outside, but the walls, windows and roof exceed code requirements.

"We used more insulation and better performing windows as well as wall and roof material that is better able to deflect heat in the summer and retain it in the winter," explains Porfilio. "We also used more sealants to prevent leakage so we knew exactly where all the heating and cooling was going."

The geothermal heating system requires fewer pumps and motors, which further reduces energy consumption. "We greatly reduced the need for carbon fuels to operate the airport itself," he notes proudly.

Small design details can also add up to bigger long-term savings, he adds. For example, better use of natural lighting ensures a more aesthetically pleasing environment with less cost than even fluorescent lights - a measure other airports could use, too.

"Green design is absolutely the wave of the future," says Porfilio. "Because of their sheer size, airports are embracing the concepts and see it as a critical way to reduce costs." Tight budgets and the relatively long lifespan of airport buildings further boost interest in energy-efficient designs, he adds.

Assuring Accountability

The nearly $29 million it cost to renovate and expand Nantucket Memorial's terminal did not come from local tax revenues, notes Peterson. A grant from the State of Massachusetts provided $12 million. The airport commission dedicated five years of FAA airport improvement funds for another $12 million. And the balance will be paid out of airport revenue, he reports.

Receiving outside funds came with its challenges. The state, for instance, required a large portion of the money to be spent by the end of the fiscal year. This required the airport, AECOM and Skanska to fast track the construction process. Some might describe the process as just-in-time engineering.

"Skanska started excavation, concrete foundation, basement and structural steel with the overall design only 40 percent complete," says Steve Eustis, Skanska's construction manager for the project. "Other trades were procured when the design was 60 to 90 percent complete. The entire project was already 40 percent completed before the final design was finalized."

Subcontract procurement, which included AECOM's plans and specifications, was supplemented by detailed scopes of work plans created by the Skanska team. Although plans included items missing from the design at the time of bid, the scope of the work process minimized the potential for unwanted change orders and project delay-because Skanska's team knew they were necessary elements to the project.

Another unique aspect of the project was the decision to manage it in a manner outside the traditional civil service bidding processes. Called "construction management at risk," the provision in Massachusetts law allows public agencies to hire a construction manager to oversee the project as though it was being built by a private entity. Skanska USA was the construction manager that controlled all the subcontractors for the project.

Nantucket hired the consulting firm Jacobs to serve as the project manager. The firm reviewed designs to ensure they were soundly engineered, then served as a liaison between the government and its private contractors.

"Our primary job was to track the project's schedule and budget to ensure that we remained on time and within established costs," explains project manager Steve Flecchia.

The need to import construction materials to the island by barge or airplane made the job more challenging than usual. It was up to the construction manager to ensure that materials were onsite when the crew needed them. Skanska also had to ensure that there was enough skilled labor, even if team members had to fly back and forth or spend the night.

"Deliveries were planned and scheduled sometimes months in advance, and unpredictable weather added to the challenge," Eustis recalls. "But, our general superintendent, Mike Gear, was able to overcome these logistical challenges and keep the project on schedule."

The cost-saving measure of renovating the original building presented logistic obstacles. "The project team had to ensure that it remained operational while doubling its size during the course of the project," explains Flecchia. "Having to maintain secure and non-secure areas was often the greatest challenge. We've done this for other airports, but it usually involved one or the other, not both."

Because the air traffic control tower was part of the building under construction, Skanska also had to seek variances for the project. "The code states that if something is structurally modified in the tower, the entire control cab would have to be addressed," explains Flecchia. "Any significant change would have impacted a budget that was already very tight."

Despite the challenges that came with fast-tracking an island construction project, all the parties involved worked well together to complete it ahead of schedule and nearly 5% below the original construction budget, Eustis explains.

"It is very important to the success of any airport project that the construction manager thoroughly understand how airports function every minute of the day," says Eustis. "Whether it involves security, weather or equipment-related issues, the construction manager must anticipate these changing conditions by planning and being prepared to change their approach quickly as well."

"The project team and the airport staff enjoyed a great working relationship based on mutual trust," he adds. "That led to extremely quick decision-making. The contractors listened to understand the airport's needs, and the airport staff was willing to trust our expertise and experience. That expedited the project schedule and eliminated the pitfalls that can occur when the owner and builder do not collaborate."

In the end, Nantucket Memorial's staff was pleased with the results - new capacity and capability married with the airport's old-fashioned island charm.


2022 Charlotte Douglas International Airport Report of Achievement

Giving back to the community is central to what Charlotte Douglas International Airport and its operator, the City of Charlotte Aviation Department, is about, and last year was no different. 

Throughout 2022, while recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, we continued our efforts to have a positive impact on the Charlotte community. Of particular note, we spent the year sharing stories of how Connections Don't Just Happen at the Terminal - from creating homeownership and employment opportunities to supporting economic growth through small-business development and offering outreach programs to help residents understand the Airport better.

This whitepaper highlights the construction projects, initiatives, programs and events that validate Charlotte Douglas as a premier airport.

Download the whitepaper: 2022 Charlotte Douglas International Airport Report of Achievement.



Featured Video

Featured Video

# # #

# # #