Port Columbus Int'l Invests in Existing Facilities, Prepares for Future Construction

Jodi Richards
Published in: 

The decision to renovate or build new is often viewed as a high-stakes fork in the road, but Port Columbus International (CMH) seems comfortable straddling the common divide. In March, the Ohio airport celebrated the end of an $80 million terminal renovation program while maintaining its options to build a new midfield terminal in the future. Fresh finishes, an infusion of natural lighting and updated mechanicals were completed to bridge the gap until passenger numbers establish a clearer path toward ground-up construction. 

The primary goal of the renovation program was to improve the travel experience for passengers by creating a more modern, open and attractive terminal, explains Elaine Roberts, chief executive officer of the Columbus Regional Airport Authority. From a functional standpoint, the upgrades are expected to extend the useful life of the building 15 to 20 years, or up to 8.5 to 10 million annual passengers. (Currently, the airport services 6.8 million per year.) Much of the lifecycle extension is driven by recent investments in CMH's mechanical systems, notes Roberts. 

Project: Airport Renovation 
Location: Port Columbus (OH) Int'l Airport
Total Cost: $80 million
Ceiling Tiles: 275,000 sq. ft.
Carpeting: 130,000 sq. ft.
Terrazzo: 150,000 sq. ft.
Drywall: 7,500 sheets 
Light Fixtures: 2,000

Cost: $4 million
Timeline: Jan. 2013-Sept. 2013
Design: AECOM
Renovation: Messer Construction Co.

Cost: $14 million
Timeline: Oct. 2013-Sept. 2015
Design: AECOM; MSA Architects
Construction Manager at Risk: Gilbane 
Building Co.

Cost: $7 million
Timeline: April 2013-Dec. 2013
Design: AECOM
Construction Manager at Risk: Gilbane 
Building Co.

Cost: $31 million
Timeline: Jan. 2014-March 2016
Design: AECOM
Construction Manager: Turner Construction Co.
Drywall & Ceiling: Combs Interior Specialties
Baggage Scales: Rice Lake Weighing Systems

Cost: $6.3 million
Timeline: Feb. 2015-Feb. 2016
General Contractor: Corna-Kokosing
Design: MSA Architects

Cost: $15 million
General Wi-Fi Contractor: Cincinnati Bell Technology Solutions
Wi-Fi Hardware & Access Points/Configured Servers: Aruba Networks
Cabling: Professional Cabling Solutions

A study conducted in 2011 charted the course to extend the life of existing facilities, and crews began renovations in fall 2012. Planners primarily focused on the current terminal's ticketing level and investigated ways to modernize the building that was constructed in 1958. 

Roberts characterizes CMH's previous facilities as well-maintained and functional, but certainly not modern looking: The ticket lobby was dark with a very low ceiling, and the aging ceramic tile floor was in poor shape. TSA checkpoints were particularly constrained, she adds. 

"At the time, we didn't see the timing for a new terminal anywhere close," Roberts recalls. "We were trying to modernize and get more capacity out of the current building."

Together, the airport and AECOM studied passenger demand projections and explored case studies of other airports. This helped CMH officials "understand where they were" and what kind of investment the facility might need, explains Ron Dixon, AECOM's Eastern Midwest aviation leader. 

"They had air service and passenger traffic that was solid-this is a city that consistently increases its population year over year," Dixon comments. "There was a lot they could bank on about the metro population always wanting to use the airport." 

While renovating the airport's 60-year-old terminal prevailed as the most prudent near-term route, the broader plan included keeping a close eye on future demands. The project team identified the ticket lobby as in dire need of an update, but quickly realized that the rest of the terminal would also benefit from a facelift. As the airport authority prepared for ticket lobby renovations, it expanded the project scope to include all public spaces, including CMH's three concourses, 35 gate areas and the lower-level baggage claim. 

Three TSA passenger checkpoints were also expanded/renovated; and the car rental area received new Arconas Aerea(tm) seating with built-in power outlets as well as additional inPower Flex(tm) modules for existing seating. During previous projects, the airport increased the capacity of its free wireless network for passengers and partnered with Arconas to retrofit existing seats with additional power units. It also added Powermat(tm) charging disks to existing tables in holdrooms throughout all three terminals to provide new options for wireless charging. 

Originally a $25 million ticket lobby update, the most recent renovation program mushroomed to $80 million of updates throughout the airport. "We couldn't look at another 10 or 15 years without doing this," Roberts explains. "You have to preserve and take care of your assets-keep them fairly modern and attractive and well-maintained throughout their useful life." 

Program Objectives
CMH officials had very specific goals for the renovation, notes Roberts. Among them was to enhance the natural light in the ticket lobby and update/renovate restrooms throughout the terminal. 

According to customer surveys, ambiance was one of the airport's weakest factors. "The terminal itself received high marks in cleanliness, etcetera. But it was the overall satisfaction with the airport experience that was coming back (negatively) in those surveys," she shares.

With the project complete, Roberts is especially pleased with improvements in the ticket lobby. "It looks like a new terminal," she raves. 

In addition to adding more natural lighting, the airport opted to install energy-efficient LED light fixtures. New common-use ticket counters further brighten the space and allow for more efficient, flexible working environments for the airlines. Dixon describes the new finishes as classic, well-detailed and cleanable. "It's a comprehensive modernization, but done with a lot of economy," he relates. 

New terrazzo flooring replaced aging ceramic tiles in the lobby and carpet in circulation areas and corridors. Previously, CMH had to replace carpeting often; but the terrazzo is expected to last the life of the building. New carpeting was installed in holdrooms. 

Restrooms, previously a common subject of passenger complaints, received a total makeover. Stalls were widened to accommodate patrons with wheeled luggage, and shelves were added to keep personal items like purses and briefcases off the floors. Hand dryers located next to each sink prevent patrons from dripping water across the floor, and the facilities are nearly paperless. "You can literally power-wash our restrooms," Roberts remarks.

Having all airport stakeholders involved in the planning process-early and throughout-was a tremendous asset to the project, she reflects. Personnel from the airport's asset management and custodial teams, for instance, helped strategize restroom renovations.

As the program entered its third and final year, the airport had enough money to invest $800,000 in modernizing its pre-security food court, reports Roberts. Responding to feedback from passenger surveys, CMH broadened its array of concession options and added more than 6,000 square feet of space throughout all three concourses. Local concepts, such as Eddie George's Grille 27, Bob Evans Express and Donato's Pizza, were interspersed with existing concepts.

Concessions revenue is consequently up, exceeding passenger growth, note airport personnel.

Other line items added to the original program scope include new information counters in the ticket lobby and lower-level baggage claim. The airport also relocated its business center and currency exchange.

Not all of the potential projects that popped up during renovations were added to the renovation program. Some-such as a set of restrooms that are less visible to the traveling public and not as outdated as others-were placed on what Roberts calls the airport's "gap list." As officials evaluate the need for a new terminal, they'll also consider the projects accumulating on the gap list. 

"This will be a continual question over the next 10 years or so," says Roberts. "How much more money do you keep pouring into this building, other than preserving the assets at a certain standard of customer service? You're not going to want to invest a lot more money if you're getting ready to walk away from the building. That will become a new challenge."  

Elevator and escalator upgrades not included in the recent program will be needed in the near future, she notes. 

Raising the Roof
Arguably, the most striking change at CMH occurred in the ticket lobby. What was once a dark space with a low, arching metal ceiling now features curved 30-by-110-foot skylights that flood passengers with sunlight. Removing the old ceiling allowed designers to take advantage of the space's original 28-foot structural clearance and creates an open, airy ticket lobby, 
Dixon comments. 

Installing the new skylights was a monumental endeavor that required careful planning and coordination, notes Dave Shirey, project manager with Turner Construction Company, construction manager at risk for the lobby renovation. To add the new feature, crews reinforced the structure's columns and extended them through the roof, which allowed them to build the skylights above the roof. Next, workers tied the existing roof into the skylight structure and cut out the structural joists, decking and roofing from underneath the skylights. "There were months of preparation and getting everything ready," Shirey recalls. "And then, over the course of about three days, we opened that up; and all of a sudden, there's a skylight in the ceiling."

Because the project was a renovation and not a fresh build, phasing was crucial, Roberts advises. "At times, it really looked like a major, major construction site," she recalls. "It was critical to have good signage, and tenants and everybody had to be very patient."

The biggest challenge was having about 20,000 people walking through the construction site every day, adds Shirey. Not surprisingly, wayfinding updates were considered critical, and CMH consequently hired additional customer service staff throughout the program to direct passengers. "Things were changing every few weeks, and the airlines shifted counters at least twice during this process," Roberts relates.

To ensure safety and minimize negative impacts on passengers, Turner Construction encapsulated the area where crews performed heavy structural work during the installation of the skylights. After that was finished, the interior renovation remained very visible to passengers-a strategy that consequently saved the airport money. "It took a long period of time to accomplish, but the difference was that the passengers were experiencing and watching it as it was going on. It wasn't behind a wall or curtain," comments Turner Vice President Kyle Rooney.

When barriers were necessary between construction workers and passenger traffic, Turner tried to make them aesthetically pleasing. Painted plywood walls displayed renderings of what the lobby would look like at the end of the project.  

Eventually, only open metal barricades were needed to separate the work area from passenger flow. "That gave us a lot of flexibility to move passenger lanes around as need be, but allowed them to experience the construction, too," Shirey explains. 

"We always had to have the passengers be able to pass through the lobby to get to the checkpoints," he emphasizes. "So we had that constraint to provide a safe walkway path right through the construction area."

Turner ran two crews and saved work that was especially loud or potentially disruptive for the night shift. "At three in the morning, we would stop working and get things put back together; because at 4 a.m., those ticket counters opened," Shirey recalls.

To accommodate construction, airline ticket counters were consolidated in the north half of the lobby while renovations occurred in the south half. Once that end was completed, the counters were moved to the south. Advanced notice of the relocations was critical for construction crews and airlines alike, Shirey notes. It was important that all components of the customer service process could communicate when the moves occurred, he emphasizes.  

"Whether it was a baggage office or ticket counters or holdrooms, it was a giant puzzle," Dixon recalls. 

Mark of Columbus 
Promoting the "essence of Columbus" was integral to the renovation program, says Roberts. Building on the notion that CMH is the front door to the community, airport officials partnered with the local convention/visitors bureau and business community to highlight what the region has to offer.

Space in the airport atrium previously used for paid advertising now displays photographic images of Columbus landmarks. Inside the front door, travelers find walk-through museums that showcase the history of Port Columbus. An art display in the center of the lobby features notable Ohio aviators including John Glenn and Eddie Rickenbacker. "We're doing a lot of things to really showcase the community and some of the exciting things around here," Roberts notes. "I think it's going to really add a lot to our facility."

A large medallion artwork added to the terrazzo floor in the ticket lobby features iconic facilities and structures in the area. In partnership with the Ohio Art League, the airport will also showcase the work of local and state artists in updated exhibit spaces.  

While new pieces of art and updated finishes provide immediate visual appeal to travelers, CMH invested roughly half of its $80 million project budget in back-of-house mechanical infrastructure for the aging terminal. Crews updated the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system along with boilers and information technology systems.

Shifting Timeline?
Developments associated with recent renovations may prove to accelerate plans for a new terminal. While work crews replaced carpeting, updated restrooms and modernized mechanical systems, CMH officials conducted a study to analyze the airport's midfield area, where the future terminal, parking garage and car rental facility will eventually be built. The "mini master plan," as Roberts calls it, investigated potential revenue-generating uses for the space while the airport and airlines prepare for new construction. 

The study prompted officials to reassess previous passenger forecasts. Projections from 2014 estimated that CMH would need a new terminal around 2030-assuming passenger growth of slightly less than 2% per year, including capacity gains from the renovation program. 

About 15 years earlier, CMH and its airlines agreed that a new terminal would only be built in phases, as the airport ran out of capacity in its current building. "We would not just build a brand new terminal and walk away from the old terminal," Roberts summarizes.

Updated information, however, indicates that the airport will need to build a new terminal all at once to meet anticipated capacity demands by 2030. Passenger traffic at CMH surpassed original expectations by growing 7% last year and was tracking at roughly 6% as the first quarter of this year came to a close. "We've redone the forecast already," Roberts relates, noting that a new terminal could be needed as early as the mid-2020s. 

"Capacity is an interesting thing," she muses. Ultimately, the timeline for CMH's midfield terminal construction will depend on how fast passenger volume continues to grow. 


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.



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