New Terminal Will Be a Welcome Change at Palomar Airport

Rebecca Douglas
Published in: 

The clock is ticking on construction at McClellan-Palomar Airport in Carlsbad, CA. In order to satisfy the terms of a $10 million bond agreement, the airport's new terminal must be ready for use in December. Everything, however, seems to be proceeding on schedule.

Michael Khoury, P.E., project manager for the San Diego County Department of Public Works, estimated construction to be half complete in late August.

"The steel is up, the walls are in and the roof has been placed," Khoury reports.

The standard construction site disarray is actually a welcome site for both passengers and airport personnel. For nine years, they've been operating out of a one-room 3,600-square-foot temporary terminal made of metal trailers. The words shabby, crowded and last-century are often levied. The parking lots draw their share of criticism, too, for being disjointed and too far away from the terminal.

It's the promise of things to come - an exponentially larger terminal with a customs facility, high-tech baggage screening, a new restaurant and Wi-Fi access for passengers - that puts a surprisingly tolerant and optimistic spin on the jackhammer noise and construction zone detours.

No Easy Answer

Wadell Engineering Corporation, which has worked on an "as-needed contract" basis with the County of San Diego since 2005, helped map out the transition via a $28.5 million airport redevelopment project.

"A concept study demonstrated the need to integrate ten separate elements such as road improvements, construction of a new terminal, the addition of a new airline apron, and others," explains president and CEO Robert Wadell, P.E.

Fitting all ten projects into the airport's 255-acre parcel of land proved to be one of the biggest challenges. In addition to being landlocked by housing developments and business parks, much of the county-owned site was previously used as a county trash dump. Of the 65 acres not occupied by airside necessities such as runways and taxiways, only 20 acres are suitable for buildings due to the land's history.

"The environmental restrictions made it a real chore to design," notes Wadell. "Obviously, the terminal couldn't be built on landfill; but even other buildings had to be equipped with methane monitors and gas collectors."

The task of designing a new terminal and parking to fit the small, puzzle-piece parcel fell to Gensler. "It's one of the most compact, constrained sites I've ever worked with," notes Gensler principal Keith Thompson, a 25-year industry veteran. "Landside access is very abbreviated and the site is tucked in the corner of an industrial site."

To make things even more interesting, designers had only 24,000 square feet to work with. "Even though the county owns the property, they can't do whatever they want with it," explains Wadell. "They still needed to 'reach across the aisle' to work with the City of Carlsbad."

Together, the airport's former terminal and outlying buildings occupied 24,000 square feet of space; so that's the limit for new buildings, too. In the end, Gensler's design weighed in at 18,000 square feet, thanks largely to covered breezeway sections that are not fully enclosed.

"We had to live within the environmental constraints and political rules, yet accomplish the project properly," explains Wadell.

Gensler's architectural answer was a terminal that reflected the City of Carlsbad. "It's a small town adjacent to the ocean with lots of parks," Thompson describes. "It's a great place to raise kids."

That translated into liberal use of "outdoor/indoor spaces" - covered but not completely enclosed areas for baggage claim, the main meet and greet lobby and restaurant seating. "That close to the ocean, it's often nicer outside than inside," he explains. "These spaces make the most of the extremely temperate Southern Californian climate. It also provides an overall larger sense of place."

Canopies, awnings and umbrellas were specified for the rare incidences of inclement weather.

Other local touches include plenty of operable windows to add "indoor/outdoor connectivity" and decking materials in the courtyard spaces. Hand-seeded concrete flooring in the breezeways is variegated much like the sand on local beaches as the tides ebb and flow.

On the Fast Track

In addition to including unique site complications, the Palomar redevelopment also had to happen quickly. The project was put out to bid in May of 2007, and construction on airside elements began in September the same year. The design phase lasted four to five months vs. the original projection of seven.

Many architects and planners would consider the project's list of challenges a blueprint for ulcers. Thompson prefers to view them "incentives."

Both Thompson and Wadell credit the County of San Diego's Public Works Department - and project manager Khoury, in particular - for helping the project move along so briskly. "Michael did a great job translating the airport's needs into fair and proper contracts," explains Wadell. "There's no question that his people skills and ability to navigate through the large county's many departments and agencies allowed us to meet our deadlines."

"Over-the-shoulder review" was a critical element, too. "As we were designing the project, we met with the client to get their reaction and comment," explains Wadell. "When it was time to produce bid documents, the county already understood and accepted our resultant design."

"The county does all their own plan check reviews," adds Thompson. "And they made decisions promptly. That was a huge timesaver."

Although many aspects of sustainable design were used (ample natural light and ventilation, for example), time and cost restraints precluded Gensler from seeking LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification.

What If It's Too Good?

Easy expandability was built into the terminal in four key areas: ticketing, security, baggage claim and the passenger hold room. "From an architectural and design standpoint, we were not only pulling it forward 50 years," explains Eric James, Gensler's project architect and manager, "we were also making sure it will serve them well into the future."

  Former New
Ticketing Lobby  1,146 sq. ft. 3,000 sq. ft.
Holdroom Area 490 sq. ft. 1,800 sq. ft.
Baggage Claim 200 sq. ft. 900 sq. ft.
Passenger Screening Area 627 sq. ft.  1,100 sq. ft.
Bag Screening Area 193 sq. ft. 450 sq. ft.
Concession Area 114 sq. ft. 2,400 sq. ft.

Assuring ample flexibility throughout the entire $28.5 million redevelopment project was vital to Pete Drinkwater, director of airports for Palomar and San Diego County's seven other airports. "You just never know how business will change," Drinkwater explains. "Between rising fuel prices and our crazy rollercoaster economy, it's important for an airport to be able to adjust to market changes."

With two commercial carriers servicing the airport - daily service from Skywest Airlines and less-frequent flights by Vision Airways - airport officials hope the new terminal and other redevelopment efforts will attract more airlines. U.S. Airways discontinued its service earlier this year.

Traffic from smaller general aviation and corporate aircraft, however, is already brisk, as evidenced by the new $30 million multi-story Premier Jet facility just 300 feet west of the main commercial terminal.

With more than 18,000 landings and takeoffs in June, Palomar ranks as one of the busiest single-runway airports in the country.

"You just never know what will affect traffic," Drinkwater notes. "Congress could change the tax laws affecting corporate aircraft, or emergency service support could suddenly be in big demand. That's why we made sure the airport design was agile enough handle change."

Facts and Figures

Project:  New Terminal

Location: McClellan-Palomar Airport - Carlsbad, CA

Size: 18,000 sq. ft.

Cost: $6.5 million

Overall Redevelopment: $28.5 million (includes taxiway improvements, new apron, parking lots, blast fence, etc.)

Terminal Construction: Began December 2007; completion slated for December 2008

Prime Airport Consultant: Wadell Engineering Corporation

Architect: Gensler

Challenges: Landlocked building site with county landfill under large portion; environmental restrictions on square footage that could be built

Support Team

Contractor: Edge Development

Construction Management: Mendoza & Associates

Some customers are actually leery of the impending improvements. When a local newspaper reporter asked travelers about the new terminal, many didn't want anything written about it because they wanted to keep it a secret. One regular business flyer refused to characterize the boarding process at Palomar, saying everyone would start using the airport if they knew how quick it usually is.

Wadell doesn't hesitate discussing the subject. "It typically takes about three minutes to go through security; up to four minutes if the TSA machine shines your shoes," he says, noting that none of the area's other airports come close to such speed.

The new terminal's design is expected to further expedite traveler's experience. "We've separated functions into different buildings," explains Thompson. "They're all connected, but customers will use only the areas they need."

Additional parking will also be located near the terminal. Because it's across a road and down a hillside, a short bridge and elevators were added to ease the 20- to 30-foot elevation change.

"We've tried to make everything as easy to navigate as possible," notes Thompson.

In December, the traveling public will undoubtedly let everyone involved in the project know exactly how they did. Nothing tests a new facility like holiday travelers.



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

# # #

# # #