New Jetport Becomes Front Door to Tennessee Business Region

Greg Gerber
Published in: 


Project: New Airport

Location: Cleveland (TN) Regional Jetport

Total Cost: $42.3 million

Terminal Cost: $1.6 million, including technology

Funding: 90% state & FAA; 10% local

FBO: Crystal Air

Prime Designer: PDC Consulting

Engineering: A2H Engineering

Terminal Designer: Rardin & Carroll Architects

Prime Contractor (Terminal): J&J Contracting

Prime Contractor (Airport): Wright Brothers Construction

Prime Paving Contractor: Hinkle Contracting

Lighting: Guardian Electric Corp.

Stone Provider: Vulcan Materials

Environmental Permitting: S&ME

Video Displays: Wheeler Communications

LED Airfield Lighting: ADB Airfield Solutions

Prime Lighting Contractor: Guardian Electric Corp.

Stream Mitigation Contractor:
Backwater Environmental

Cleveland, TN, is a small-town community with big-city business partners. What it didn't have was an airport capable of serving its partners' travel needs. But that recently changed, when Cleveland Regional Jetport (RZR) opened in late January, replacing the area's previous airport, Hardwick Field.

With a 5,500-foot runway and new 8,000-square-foot terminal building, RZR is proving to be a better fit for Fortune 500 companies including Whirlpool, Amazon and Coca-Cola.

"This is a dynamic facility designed to meet the needs of those companies which have a business relationship with the city," explains Mark Fidler, RZR's director of operations. "Now that it is open, it's a tremendous timesaver for business executives who, in the past, had to fly into Chattanooga and drive to Cleveland."

With just 41,285 residents, Cleveland has a surprisingly large population of corporate heavyweights. Proctor & Gamble, Merck Pharmaceuticals, Volkswagen, M&M Mars and many other business icons also have major manufacturing centers or warehouses in the community. Although Cleveland is a relatively small city, it's located in the center of one of the fastest growing regions in the United States and close to the borders of Alabama, North Carolina and Mississippi.

Cleveland's new airport was in the "development stages" for more than 40 years, inching along with every change in city administration, relates Fidler. After considering a plan to expand Hardwick Field, the city opted to build a new facility on a new site. The FAA and state funded 90% of the $42.3 million project, and the local community paid for 10% of the cost.

"Hardwick Field served the community well for many years, but it had become one of the worst, if not the worst, airport in Tennessee," explains Steve Carroll, principal with Rardin & Carroll Architects, the firm that designed RZR's terminal. "For a city that was attracting international industry, having a small airport was becoming problematic."

Built on property donated by a prominent local family, Hardwick Field had become landlocked by a neighborhood of affluent homes and a private school that were added as the city grew around the airport. In addition, its 3,300-foot runway was simply too short to fully accommodate many corporate jets. The largest aircraft that could safely use the facility was a 12-seat jet, and it required every inch of runway to achieve takeoff speed, explains Carroll. Smaller jets had to pull up so fast that pilots risked clipping trees, he adds.

When Tennessee's governor came to Cleveland for ribbon-cutting ceremonies or meetings, his plane could land at Hardwick Field, but would have to depart from Chattanooga. That required pilots to reposition the empty aircraft and staffers to add a 30-minute drive to the governor's schedule.

Now that RZR is fully operational, Cleveland can accommodate a variety of corporate aircraft, including "heavy iron." City officials plan to sell land at Hardwick Field to help pay for the new terminal and other infrastructure improvements.

Finding the right land for the new airport proved to be an ongoing problem. As soon as the city selected a location, one of the property owners would back out, recalls Fidler. "We never wanted to exercise eminent domain," he explains. "We wanted this to be a community project where everyone felt comfortable with building a new airport in the right location."

Eight years ago, he adds, city officials got serious about building a modern airport. Lynn DeVault, a former executive at Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport, took the reins of the project and vowed to make the new airport a reality.

"She had the right combination of leadership experience and aviation skills to move the project along," explains Fidler, noting that DeVault pulled together multiple community resources. These days, she chairs the Cleveland Airport Authority.

FAA officials were also involved in the process, guiding the airport team through various forms and applications needed to get the project approved.

Still Waters

PDC, designer and prime engineer for the project, conducted two site selection studies: one to expand the old airport and another for a new site. PDC Vice President Mark Paslick, who was involved with the airport for fully half of its 40-year development period, recalls being nervous about the narrow configuration of the land acquired to construct RZR.

"At that time, we thought it was pretty tight for airport use, because the property is wedged between a railroad and a highway. Although one end is next to open farmland, the other end was adjacent to an industrial park," explains Paslick.

The site also drew attention from state and federal regulatory agencies. "I have done eight airport projects, and this one had more public projects done under federal contract than any of the others," he reflects.

To make the property functional, the airport figured it would have to relocate a county road, replace an aging bridge and - the biggest hurdle - reroute a creek meandering through the site. PDC's design eliminated the need for a new bridge by relocating a segment of the Little Chatata Creek that was already considered impaired due to sediment and e-coli contamination from cattle.

"We had to create a pathway for the creek to pass underneath the property through a viaduct that empties into another meandering stream," Fidler explains.

A "three-barrel culvert" that measures 9 feet high and 600 feet long was part of the fix. In addition, consultants from Backwater Environmental developed a plan to recreate 3,500 feet of streambed. "What we thought was a ditch, they identified as a stream," recalls Paslick. "The discovered tributary (to Little Chatata) increased the total stream length being mitigated to 3,800 feet."

The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation also required the airport to create a mitigation site on the other side of town, notes Fidler. The effort was "very time consuming and expensive," he recalls, but ultimately created a "beautiful park" with 30 acres of walking trails for local residents.

The RZR project was the first of its kind to receive an individual environmental permit from the state, notes Paslick. In order to obtain the permit, PDC had to ensure that no construction sediment would enter the stream; so crews created eight sediment ponds to collect water on the site.

"Engineers did a good job creating sediment basins throughout the 100-acre work zone," recalls Jason Rogers, project manager with Hinkle Contracting. "If erosion started to occur, they made sure the dirt was directed into those basins."

When the bulk of the earthmoving was complete, workers filled the basins with dirt and rock from other parts of the field. Sod was also placed around the full length of the runway to ensure dirt wouldn't blow across the pavement.

Leveling the Field

Paving contractor Hinkle Construction subcontracted the excavation of concrete pavement to Wright Brothers Construction. Shortly after officials broke ground for the new airport in late 2010, its crews moved 2.3 million cubic yards of dirt and other material to flatten the land and make it suitable for RZR's 5,500-foot runway. With no obstruction issues on either approach path, about 85% of all commercial jets can land at RZR. And plans are already underway to extend the runway another 500 feet - hopefully this summer, Fidler notes.

Wright Brothers crews also erected erosion control measures throughout the airport property. "Tennessee has one of the most stringent erosion control regulations of any state," says Rogers. "If you are going to move dirt in Tennessee, you better have your ducks in a row."

Officials are strict about the issue because of the state's agricultural base, explains Rogers: "(They) don't want silt or contaminants to make their way onto area farmland." The state's water resources are also tightly regulated to ensure farmers have adequate, quality irrigation for their fields, he adds.

"Wright Brothers installed three levels of silt fencing - miles of it - to help control erosion," reports Paslick. "They kind of overdid the environmental protection, but everyone was pleased with the outcome."

With 2.3 million cubic yards of excavated material, crews didn't have to bring in fill from outside the airport for the "balanced site." They did, however, have to constantly lay down grass seed, recalls Rogers. State law requires construction crews to plant temporary grass if dirt is not going to be moved within 15 days; and because so much dirt was moved during colder winter months, grass wouldn't grow quickly enough to stabilize the ground. Hinkle consequently used multiple erosion control devices: blankets, flocculant logs, sod and hydroseeding, a seed/mulch mixture that stabilizes dirt and helps grass seed take root.

"We won several awards for the environmental aspects of the project that redirected the stream and implemented erosion control devices," says Paslick. "TDOT (Tennessee Department of Transportation) takes people out there all the time to show how we managed to control water flow on the property."

Another water source on the airport presented a different type of challenge when an 18-inch cast-iron water main serving nearby communities burst. "Fortunately, we were in the process of replacing it anyway and were able to reconnect the main the same day it burst," Paslick recalls.

A major rainstorm presented yet another water-related challenge; but like the burst pipe, the crews endured.

After workers finished the design work and grading in June 2012 , Hinkle Contracting laid a 9-inch gravel sub- base for the runway, taxiway, ramp and 9-acre apron. On top of that, workers poured 11 inches of concrete - nearly 166 million pounds - to form the 5,500-by-100-foot runway and full-length taxiway. An on-site mixing plant helped facilitate the pouring of 150,000 square yards of concrete.

With the runway in position, crews built a 10,000-square-foot storage/maintenance hangar already being used by 35 based aircraft and dozens of recreational aircraft that visit RZR. In February, Paslick reported that a contract was underway to erect an even larger hangar for one of airport's major tenants, and another tenant was asking for a similar facility.

The airport is the first in Tennessee to use all LED airfield lighting, notes Fidler. "It's a spectacular system," he says, noting that at the lowest power settings, it emits the same intensity of light as a conventional system but uses 10% as much power.

Be Our Guest

RZR's 8,000-square-foot terminal building includes a dedicated pilot lounge with a kitchen, resting area, shower and two soundproof sleeping rooms that are accessible 24/7 with coded entry.

"A pilot who has a long break between flights can go jogging or exercise, shower and be ready for the next leg of the flight," notes Fidler.

The common area features a 70-inch high-definition television, and wireless Internet access is available throughout the facility. The meeting area has a 50-person conference room with three active video screens and automatic shades. Two smaller rooms, which can seat 12 and 14 people, make ideal breakout rooms, says Fidler.

The three conference rooms are all integrated with state-of-the-art audio and visual capabilities that enable customers to conference in other participants from around the world, he adds.

A full kitchen area off the conference room allows for catered meals, and RZR offers office space for short- or long-term leasing. Companies can fly people in for a board meeting, break for lunch, then break out into separate meeting rooms and never leave the facility, says Fidler.

"A lot of the commercial airports we visited had limited ability to do corporate meetings or to cater to corporate clients," notes Carroll. "Creating a corporate conference center was a huge benefit to the Cleveland community."

Enterprise and Thrifty provide rental cars for passengers, and RZR provides complimentary crew cars for corporate pilots.

"We have done everything we believe possible to make our guests feel comfortable when visiting us," says Fidler. "We want people to feel at home. Whether they are business people or recreational pilots, we want them to know they are welcome in Cleveland. By encouraging people to visit us, hopefully, they will decide to conduct business here."

Local Input

Carroll has worked on several architectural projects for the city of Cleveland, but he was extra excited about the RZR terminal. "My family has lived in the Cleveland area since 1840, so I was especially proud to be able to contribute to this project," he explains.

The Rardin & Carroll team assembled a design committee of commercial pilots, chamber of commerce members and city officials to visit four airports in east Tennessee and north Georgia for ideas about serving business customers. Local pilots with hangars at the existing airport were invited to submit wish lists of features they wanted in a new facility.

"We felt a lot of things were changing in the corporate and aviation world, and Cleveland didn't want to miss out on those trends," explains Carroll. "The pilots offered invaluable input about what we needed to provide and, more importantly, what we didn't need to provide. That helped us keep costs down by focusing on the most essential services."

User input and touring other recently constructed terminals gave his firm a clear and concise idea about what to include in the final design, he recalls. The team designed the terminal to be the front door for the Cleveland Chamber of Commerce and others who market the community and are involved in industrial recruitment. The goal was to make the two-story building represent Cleveland's small-town culture while also projecting its forward- thinking ways, he explains.

The firm created several design iterations before the final plan was accepted. Carroll describes the terminal as a "high-class Tennessee mountain lodge with high-tech applications." Its metal roof and exterior accents of stone and stucco are indigenous architecture elements, he adds.

Visitors entering the main lobby are greeted with two banks of 14 integrated video screens mounted into stone and wood columns. The screens display advertising for local businesses and information about the region. Because they are digitally controlled by a vendor, content can be quickly changed to promote a special meeting or community event, Carroll notes.

"The video screens help to create an open marketplace that depicts the best that Cleveland has to offer," he says.

Internal & External Feedback

Fidler compliments Hinkle Contracting for "going above and beyond to ensure the project would be completed on time and within cost." He also credits the Tennessee Department of Transportation for "keeping the ball rolling."

He also praises the entire team: "Once everyone got working in earnest, the project was laid out so everyone knew exactly what needed to be done, and what their roles would be from one day to the next. They stuck to their plan, and it turned out to be a really exceptional experience."

The airport, in turn, received compliments during its dedication ceremony in January. "Visitors considered the terminal to be spectacular because it offers beautiful vistas of the local area," Carroll reports. "Pilots commented on how the positioning of the runways make the airport accessible from just about every direction."

Visitors, he explains, are impressed that a community of Cleveland's size could develop such a quality facility.

Paslick credits the architects for capturing the city's culture: "The downtown area looks like any small town in America. The community is spread out and dotted with these beautiful, older, renovated and well-kept homes. But, right outside the city, there are three industrial parks filled to capacity, and the city is planning on developing a fourth."

The new airport, he notes, conveys Cleveland's small-town culture with an industrial flair.

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