San Antonio Int'l Renovates to Achieve Parity Between Terminals

Robert Nordstrom
Published in: 

As San Antonio International Airport (SAT) neared completion of its new Terminal B in 2010, airport and city officials began discussing ways to update the adjacent and aging Terminal A. Results of those talks are becoming apparent, as changes to the 406,000-square-foot facility begin to take shape.

In May, SAT puts the finishing touches on the first phase of $35.6 million in renovations. The two-phase project is designed to bring the 31-year-old Terminal A up to 2014 standards and ease the visual transition between terminals A and B.

Having undergone only one minor renovation since it was built, Terminal A was "really showing its age," reports SAT Aviation Director Frank Miller. The facility's early '80s design - with telltale split-face block walls and dark green terrazzo flooring - became especially evident after Terminal B was connected to Terminal A. "When travelers walked from an open and spacious environment into a dark and not very inviting 1983-vintage building, the contrasts and differences were sharp," Miller explains.


Project: Terminal Rehabilitation
Location: San Antonio Int'l Airport
Terminal: A
Cost: $35.6 million
Funding: General airport revenue bond
Architectural & Design Consultant: RS&H
Prime Designer: Parsons
Associate Architect: Munoz Architects
General Contractor: SpawGlass
HVAC/Plumbing: LC Mosel Co.
Mechanical Engineering: CNG Engineering
Electrical Engineering: TTG Engineers
Electrical & Fire Alarm: Brandt Companies
Fire Sprinklers: Automatic Fire Protection
Flight Information Display System: Infax
Public Address Interface for FIDS: IED
Wayfinding: L&H Signs; Labozan Associates
Data & Cabling: CDI Technologies
Gate Screens & Baggage Claim Displays: Infax
Weather Content for Gate Screens: AccuWeather
Drywall & Ceilings: Marek Brothers Systems
Terrazzo Flooring: National Terrazzo
Holdroom Seating: Arconas
Mobile Website: Infax

RS&H Project Manager Pat Hargrove, who led the design and architectural planning for the renovation, recalls seeing Terminal A highlighted in Architectural Digest decades ago. "I thought it was one of the coolest buildings I'd ever seen, with its arched ceiling," Hargrove relates. "I never dreamed I'd be working on this building 30 years later. But the building (became) tired. The mechanical systems had reached the end of their useful life, and aesthetically it could not match up to the bright, shiny and new Terminal B."
With fully two-thirds of the airport's 8 million annual passengers flying into and out of Terminal A, updating its aesthetics and infrastructure became a priority.

Keeping Up With the Joneses

During the design phase of the project, compatibility with Terminal B was the only major restriction airport officials placed on RS&H. Although the "bones of the buildings" are different, designers used many of the same materials to create a more seamless transition between the two terminals.

"While there are slight differences in the way materials were used, the overall feel of the two terminals is similar," Hargrove explains. "For example, the same terrazzo flooring now flows from one building into the other; and the wall tiles, concourse lighting and ticket counter cabinets are similar."

To implement the design changes, planners divided the concourse into seven areas and scheduled work in phases. All seven sectors encompassed airline gates, and many included restrooms. Each area was shut down for approximately 10 weeks to complete renovations, and only two gates were taken out of service during each construction phase.

Work crews applied painted drywall and ceramic tile to cover the old split-face concrete masonry unit walls. Electricians installed high-output fluorescent lighting along walls on both sides of the concourse for approximately 1,000 feet, brightening the facility considerably. Old dark green terrazzo flooring was replaced with lighter colored earth tone terrazzo. Holdrooms were updated with new carpeting and gate counters; and old, mismatched seating was replaced with new Arconas units that include power outlets, data connections and cupholders. New electronic flight information display monitors, wayfinding signs and airline logos were also added throughout the terminal.

Restrooms were taken out of commission in pairs and stripped back to the studs to make room for new terrazzo flooring, countertops, mirrors, plumbing, fixtures, toilet partitions and lighting. All 12 of the terminal's restrooms now comply with code requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Logistics & Concessions

Neighboring elements, such as gate doors or mechanical infrastructure, significantly constrained restroom renovations. "We were held to the existing perimeters, which we had to make work while bringing the restrooms up to code and not losing any fixtures," recalls Hargrove. "Our goal was to construct bright and airy rooms using light-colored finishes and durable, maintenance-friendly materials - porcelain tile for the walls, terrazzo floors, stainless-steel partitions and solid-surface countertops."

In the central landside area of the terminal, the airport replaced six escalator units and refurbished five elevators. Baggage Claim received new flooring, lighting and wall treatments that mirror Terminal B's look.

In the ticketing area, crews set new airline counters in place and installed updated electrical and communication infrastructure that allows for future conversion to common-use operations.

"We're planning for the future," Miller informs. "We've put in place what we need to convert to common-use operations, where we can reassign gates and move airlines around. I'm very pleased that we will have this capability."

The airport also changed Terminal A's security checkpoint, where queuing had previously been a problem. "We would have people lined up all the way down and into Terminal B, especially during the early morning push," Miller recalls.

SAT management worked with concessions management company HMSHost to move a retail concession previously located next to the checkpoint. The extra space helped eliminate queuing problems and provided room for TSA's Pre-check program, explains Miller.

Although the Terminal A rehab officially stopped at the lease line of retail and food/beverage tenants, HMSHost brought in several new restaurants to replace older, dated concepts to complement the airport's efforts.

"San Antonio Chef Johnny Hernandez partnered with HMSHost to bring in La Gloria, Fruteria and Mission City," reports Anthony Alessi, vice president of business development for the concessions management company. "In addition, we partnered to bring in La Tapenade Mediterranean Grill as well as the nationally known Steak 'n Shake and Auntie Anne's."

The airport installed glass and stainless-steel portals at store entrances to highlight concessions and create a consistent look for vendors along the concourse.

Behind the Walls

Mechanical and plumbing improvements consumed approximately 25% of project's overall budget. SAT replaced 46 of the terminal's 72 air-handling units and refurbished another 11. Some of the 10- to 30-ton units had to be taken apart and pieced back together to fit into existing spaces. All 72 air-handling units now have digital rather than pneumatic controls, and new sheet metal ductwork was installed in mechanical rooms. For fire prevention, SAT extended a sprinkler system throughout the facility and installed panic hardware in stairwells.

General contractor SpawGlass provided temporary air to airport vendors while the main systems were shut down during renovations. "That was a pretty big challenge," recalls Mike Merritt, the company's project manager. "We brought in generators and outside mobile air conditioning units. We would pipe in temporary ductwork to provide air while the new units were being installed. Then, we would have to break it all down and move on to the next area."

Because much of the construction work took place on the airside portion of the terminal, maintaining security was a complex and ongoing issue. During peak periods, approximately 75 day-shift workers and 40 night-shift workers had to undergo background checks and apply for badges to work in secure areas. Crewmembers were also required to carry detailed inventory lists of materials they transported within secure areas. If asked, a worker had to confirm possession of everything on his or her list.

"If there was a screwdriver or utility knife missing, TSA could shut us down," emphasizes Merritt. "That utility knife could have been left in a restroom, where a passenger could pick it up (and potentially carry it onto a plane). Fortunately, we had no incidents."

Work areas were enclosed by barricades with double doors, and security personnel guarded the doors. When workers left the barricaded area, guards confirmed that they were not carrying forbidden items out of the work zone. In addition, SAT security personnel conducted mandatory training sessions with all subcontractors working on the project.

SpawGlass held daily meetings with security, subcontractors and airport personnel to keep the project moving and avoid unnecessary disruptions. "There are enough surprises you have to deal with when you crack into a 25-year-old wall without bringing more to the table," comments Hargrove.

Phase 2

Airport and city officials hope to get design work rolling on the next phase of Terminal A renovations by the end of this summer. Construction is slated for 2015.

The second, and final, phase will bring the Customs area on the lower level up to the terminal's new standards with updated flooring, wall treatments and larger restrooms. Lighting on the 35-foot-high barrel ceiling in the ticketing lobby will also be improved.

Curbside, officials intend to upgrade the terminal's split-face block exterior to make it more compatible with the façade of Terminal B next door. Airside, plans are set to add another bridge on the concourse, bringing Terminal A's gate total to 17.

Miller reports that feedback about the renovations has been very positive. "Travelers are very pleased with the look of the building," he says. "And the airlines say it has made their operations better. It's been a very positive response all around."


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