New Terminal Shines at Southwest Georgia Regional

Jennifer Bradley
Published in: 

Yvette Aehle never dreamed she would be so enthused about bathrooms. But after running Southwest Georgia Regional Airport (ABY) for years without any facilities past the TSA security checkpoint, her excitement is completely understandable.

New post-security restrooms are just one of the noticeable upgrades in ABY’s $10.8 million new terminal, a contemporary building unlike any other in the region. The new facility is also the showcase project of a three-phase $18 million redevelopment plan nearing its end.

A new terminal had been high on Aehle’s list of missions to accomplish ever since she began her tenure at ABY in the summer of 2004; but multiple airfield projects needed to be addressed first. After the airfield work was completed in 2008, she promptly began discussions about a new terminal.

Because the project had been on the airport’s capital improvement plan for years, the FAA was not at all surprised to hear Aehle’s intentions to move forward.



Project: New Terminal & Parking  
Location: Southwest Georgia Regional
Total Cost: $18 million
Terminal Cost: $10.8 million
Funding: 72.2% FAA; 27.8% local
Terminal Size: 26,000 sq. ft.; 34,800 gross sq. ft. under roof
Ground Broken: March 2012
Facility Occupied: Aug. 2013
Engineer/Architect of Record: Michael Baker Jr.
Local Architect: Maschke Associates
General Contractor: Walbridge
Flight Info Displays: Infax
Manufactured Stone: Arriscraft
Design Details: 2 drop-off canopies; 2 covered porches; manufactured stone facade; metal wall panel system; 8 different roof materials

“We had done the best we could to keep it going and looking viable,” she says of the previous 1958 terminal. “It did not make a good impression of the city of Albany at all, however.”

Michael Baker Jr. Inc., the airport’s general consultant for 28 years and engineer/architect of record for the terminal project, began the planning process by debating whether to build the new terminal on a separate airport quadrant or adjacent to the original terminal. While building onto or near the existing facility would provide operational challenges during construction, a more remote site would require the extension of utilities. Ultimately, the airport decided to build its new terminal where airplanes were parking and extended the apron further onto the airfield.

Walbridge, general contractor for the project, broke ground for the new 26,000-square-foot facility in March 2012, and the two-gate terminal previously used by Delta Air Lines was displaced. In August 2013, ABY moved into its new facility.

The Next Generation

Mike Reiter, senior project manager with Michael Baker Jr., describes the new terminal as the inverse of the old one: modern, cheery and bright rather than dated, dark and dingy.

The new design speaks to the progressive culture of aviation across the country, adds Aehle. “It’s quite shocking — not what you would see in Albany, GA,” she explains.

While most of the local architecture is classic Williamsburg, with red brick and white columns, the airport is sleek stone, with a roofline that resembles the curve of an aircraft.

Creating an atmosphere that would attract passengers to fly from Albany, rather than trek three hours to fly from Atlanta, was an important objective of the project, notes Aehle.

As for highlights, she cites the new terminal’s “stunning amount of natural light,” the 28-foot ceiling in the main corridor and the terrazzo flooring used throughout. Neutral colors provide a palette that won’t go out of style, as the previous terminal’s teal/gray combination did, she adds. 

Free Wi-Fi is now available throughout the building, and electricity is provided in 25% of the post-security seating.

Even the music played in the new terminal was handpicked. “When we open at 4 a.m., it’s a spa/New Age feel, and it gets progressively faster throughout the day,” says Aehle. “It’s another way to create a welcoming atmosphere.”

Together, the various aesthetic upgrades make a world of difference, notes Reiter. “The energy and impact that having a new look brings to a community can’t be overvalued,” he emphasizes. “You can’t put a price on how you appeal to your customers.”

Mike Leath, construction services manager at Michael Baker’s Columbia, SC, office, is similarly pleased with the transformation at ABY. “It’s like going from the Old Woman in the Shoe to Cinderella’s castle,” he says with a laugh.

Wants vs. Needs

Aehle knew upfront that a project of this magnitude would be difficult to fund. And about the same time she began discussions with Michael Baker, President Barack Obama issued a round of stimulus money for “shovel-ready” projects.

“We set a very aggressive schedule to go for it,” recalls Aehle.

Ultimately, the airport did not quality for stimulus funds, but the FAA still strongly supported the project, she explains. Each year, the airport received discretionary funds to make the new terminal a reality.

“Phasing complex projects enables airport sponsors to facilitate project scheduling, effective project management and promotes project quality,” says an FAA representative. “Phasing also allows the FAA to provide funding for projects at many airports each year.” It is not uncommon, adds the representative, to provide Airport Improvement Program funding for airport projects over the course of several years.

In the end, FAA funded 72.2% of the $18 million redevelopment project, and 27.8% was funded with proceeds from a local option sales tax. The citizens of Albany approved the funding via a special referendum. The Georgia Department of Transportation also contributed $269,900 to the building construction. “They were very helpful during the process, giving us every bit they could with their budgetary constraints,” says Aehle.

In retrospect, Aehle says that working with a firmly fixed budget was the biggest challenge of the project. Making numerous change orders was not an option, she recalls, noting that the airport relied on the “skilled teams” at Michael Baker and Walbridge to ensure the project was completed as planned, within budget. “We had one change order for $64,000 in the entire project, which is unheard of in a project this size,” she relates.

Luke Frey, assistant project manager with Walbridge, says that the company’s value analysis/value engineering process helped ABY get the terminal it wanted at a price it could afford.

Overall, Walbridge identified roughly $564,000 in value-added savings to the airport, 99% of which were accepted. The biggest was changing the material used on the building’s façade from natural limestone with marble accents to an Arriscraft manufactured stone.

“We found places where we could save money to pay for overages in other places,” Frey explains. Value-engineering notwithstanding, the airport contains a lot of high-end material such as tiling, stainless steel, terrazzo and extensive windows, he notes.  “The whole thing was high-quality,” adds Frey. “Their aim was to build a facility that’s going to last for many years.”

When all was said and done, the project came in $3,000 under budget, reports Leath. “We had a good relationship with Walbridge,” he recalls, noting that a willingness to consider alternate strategies made it possible to finish under-budget.

It was a continual battle of wants versus needs, Leath recalls.  While lights in hanging installations were eliminated, terrazzo flooring remained in the plans. New flight information display
monitors were on the list of definite “must haves.” Installation of 11 new Infax monitors lasted three days.

According to Reiter, detailed planning was a major factor in the financial success of ABY’s project, and he strongly urges other airports not to be stingy with upfront planning. “That advance time of identifying and logically sequencing each of the overall project elements pays dividends further down the road in the design and construction process,” he explains.

Working with TSA and the airlines — reaching understanding and compromise during operational changes — was an important part of the planning phase, he elaborates.  Everyone came to appreciate the efforts and help each other, Reiter adds.

A lot of coordination and conversations between the design team and contractor helped problem solve issues ahead of time, agrees Leath.

Albany’s New Storefront

Like many airports, ABY experienced design strains after 9/11. “The security checkpoint had grown out into the lobby, and we had to remove passenger seating to accommodate it,” explains Aehle. “I knew something had to change.”

Lack of restrooms and access to refreshments post-security proved to be a major problem. But today, ABY has “joined the modern age.”

With its new post-9/11 layout and updated look, Leath considers ABY’s new terminal a “showpiece for the area.” Frey agrees, adding that the airport now has a “high-end South Beach appeal” more typical of larger airports.

“It’s a really impressive building and a beautiful new gateway to the community,” says Reiter. In retrospect, he realizes that he didn’t really appreciate how uninviting the previous facility had become until the new one was built. “This is what I want people’s first impression to be when they land in my community,” he says.

Reiter considers it important to breathe life into airport facilities frequently, because they serve as the “storefronts” to entire communities.

With its new storefront complete, ABY is beginning work on the third and final phase of its $18 million redevelopment — demolition of the previous terminal and construction of new rental and short-term parking lots. Airport officials expect Phase 3 to be finished by August.


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