San Luis Obispo Regional Celebrates New Terminal

San Luis Obispo Regional Celebrates New Terminal
Robert Nordstrom
Published in: 

After nearly two decades of preparatory projects and two radically different terminal designs, San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport (SBP) will finally get to cut the ribbon on its new $39.5 million terminal this November.

At 56,000 square feet, the terminal is nearly five times larger than the airport's old facility. It's also more environmentally friendly and includes new operational features such as common-use ticketing stations, inline bag screening, a new single carousel baggage claim, space for four rental car companies, an emergency operations facility, updated TSA screening lanes, and two new "low-rider" boarding bridges. Passenger amenities include the airport's first airside concessions, a larger holdroom, free WiFi throughout the terminal, and 17 self-service check-in kiosks.

"To get to where we are today required undertaking multiple projects over many years," reflects Airport Director Kevin Bumen. "I'm the third airport director involved with this project since the initial master planning process began in 1998."


Project: New Terminal
Location: San Luis Obispo (CA) Regional Airport
Cost: $39.5 million
Funding: Airport Improvement Program (68%); passenger facility charges & customer facility charges (10%); third-party financing (15%); local funding (7%)
Initial Master Planning: 1998
Original Terminal Design: 2006
Post-Recession Design: 2012
Construction: Oct. 2015-Nov. 2017
Design & Architecture: RS&H
General Contractor: Q&D Construction
Construction Management: Arcadis
Electrical/Info Technology: Electricraft
Mechanicals: Mathews Mechanical
Plumbing: HPS Plumbing
Masonry: Bratton Masonry
Access Control System: DSX
Automated Exit Lane: Record USA
Baggage System: Logan Teleflex/Daifuku
Security/Paging/Closed-Circuit TV: Medina Contracting
Multi-user Flight Information Display System: ProDIGIQ
Windows: Atascadero Glass
Boarding Bridges: Thyssen-Krupp
Seating: Arconas
Public Art: MotoArt
Concessions Management: First Class Concessions

Of Note: Team members exhibited an unusual amount of collaboration for design/bid/build project; traffic declines during 2008 recession prompted dramatic design changes & associated delays

Before SBP could construct its new terminal, crews first had to extend its main east/west runway; remove and relocate aircraft hangars; and complete apron, roadway and infrastructure improvements.

The first terminal design in 2006 featured an ambitious multilevel facility to accommodate the airport's projected growth trajectory at the time. "It was a pretty aggressive program," Bumen relates. "It featured a pier-style terminal with a second-level concourse and holdroom."

After the 2008 recession hit, however, the county board of supervisors became very concerned about costs and the amount of debt the airport would incur. Approximately one-third of SBP's air service disappeared, and the board "had the good sense to put the project on hold," says Bumen.

Almost a decade later, the air traffic lost in 2008 has returned. In 2007, the airport served about 368,400 travelers, but volume dropped to approximately 241,000 passengers in 2009. From January through July 2017, the airport handled about 188,000 travelers, and traffic continues to increase as a result of new Alaska Airlines service that began in April.

In 2012, when the county went back to the drawing board for a new terminal design, the airport handled 14 flights per day, primarily by Brasilia turboprop aircraft. Throughout design and construction, flight activity subsequently dropped to nine flights per day, though with larger aircraft and additional seats.

These days, the airport is back up to 14 flights per day and has experienced a nearly 50% increase in flight activity and 30% increase in enplanements. Another airline has come on board, and the airport now accommodates five different models of aircraft.

"Historically, the airport hosted one or two aircraft models for approximately 15 years," Bumen explains. "Our airport footprint is smaller than 350 acres-the nineteenth smallest commercial service airport in the United States. That makes it very challenging when you're looking at ways to evolve with airlines and significant traffic increases. It's been an interesting and challenging process managing growth throughout construction."

Worth the Wait

The county hired RS&H to design the new terminal, which ended up being about half the size of the facility portrayed in the 2006 plans. Given the drop in enplanements after 2008 and the significant changes in the regional aviation market, the airport no longer needed a two-story terminal, explains RS&H Senior Aviation Architect Dennis Iskra.

Construction began in October 2015 and is scheduled to conclude this November.

The new terminal features a central lobby with a 30-foot-high ceiling. Travelers move through the ticketing area and TSA screening, then exit into a post-security open-air courtyard with a protective canopy on one side. Travelers can linger outdoors to enjoy the warm Southern California sunshine or proceed directly into the indoor concessions, holdroom and gate area at the other end of the courtyard.

From a long-term planning perspective, the courtyard can be filled in if the "holdroom needs to be expanded in the future. "Instead of having to expand outwards and enlarge the building's footprint, the airport can expand inward to accommodate growth," explains Iskra.

He describes the design of the courtyard as purposely introspective, with architectural cues that focus attention inside the space. A series of large volcanic boulders set in planter beds lining the circulation path between the ticketing and holdroom buildings are a nod to the extinct Seven Sisters volcanoes that run through a 12-mile swatch of San Luis Obispo County. The planter beds, in turn, highlight the area's various flora: succulents found along the coastline, plants indigenous to the mountainous terrain, and olives and grapes from the agrarian region.

The six-gate holdroom has seating for 350 passengers-a marked improvement over the 50-seat holdroom in the old terminal. Counter-high workstations are interspersed among banks of traditional holdroom seating and offer travelers access to 70 power outlets.

New "low-rider" boarding bridges connect to two of the gates; ground loading occurs at the other four gates. "A few years back, we worked with Thyssen-Krupp to develop low-rider jet bridges, whereby the bridge would start at ground level and move up to the aircraft," Iskra explains. "One of the bridges is able to swing to connect to another gate as well. The two bridges the airport purchased are the first all-glass low-rider bridges in the world."

Mobile gate podiums with Internet and telephone hookups were added to enhance operational flexibility. While each carrier has a home gate, the mobile podiums allow airlines to move to any gate quickly and easily, explains Bumen. "They can roll the unit with its boarding pass reader and computer, plug in and begin boarding operations," he remarks. "It gives us a lot of flexibility with flight schedules and allows all the carriers to utilize jet bridges as needed."

The concessions program in SBP's new terminal offers considerable updates from the previous offerings. For the first time, travelers will have retail and food/beverage options after they clear the TSA checkpoint. First Class Concessions invested $120,000 to build out the new SLO Café & Market Place. The 1,000-square-foot operation serves snacks, hot and cold food items and beverages. A full-service bar offers spirits, beer and wine from local vineyards. Newspapers, magazines and sundry items are available in the retail section.

"With its open, warm and inviting atmosphere, our post-security marketplace is designed to fit seamlessly into the overall terminal design," says company president Tasneem Vakharia. "Showcasing local vendors is a top priority."

The airport worked with Thyssen-Krupp to develop low-rider jet bridges that start at ground level and move up to the aircraft. The two bridges the airport purchased are the first all-glass low-rider bridges in the world.

The overall building design focused significant attention on green technologies, including state-of-the-art lighting controls, daylight harvesting, ultra-low water usage toilets and urinals, solar-powered flush valves and faucets operated with artificial room lighting, an efficient variable-refrigerant volume mechanical system that transfers heat energy from one part of the building to another, and landscaping that requires little water. "Although the county did not pursue LEED (Leadership in Energy and Efficiency Design) certification, the building achieves the equivalent of a LEED Gold rating," says Iskra.

Kudos for the Team

While the project followed a traditional design-bid-build delivery method, the airport and its contractors agree that the collaborative approach taken by everyone on the team was anything but common.

"Partnering was key to the success of this project," summarizes Lisa Millar, vice president and Central Coast manager for Arcadis, the firm that provided construction management services. "Typically with projects such as this one, the contractor has its office, the design team their office and the construction manager theirs. Everyone is huddled in their own corners. That's the way adversarial relationships develop. With this project, we moved the entire team into a triple-wide trailer complex. A facilitated partnering meeting was held monthly. By sharing office space, when issues came up, the entire team was forced to come together to find a resolution."

Arcadis Senior Construction Manager Buddy Williams cites the following as a representative example of the teamwork: Early on, the project team determined that the clay soil at the building site was wet and expansive, and therefore unsuitable to support the building foundation. The initial plan called for excavating approximately 75,000 square feet of existing soil to a depth of 7 to 12 feet, disposing the soil offsite, then trucking in new soil. In addition to significantly increasing costs, this approach would have delayed the project and created traffic problems and air pollution as trucks transported materials through the community.

"We sat down as a team and went through various scenarios on how we could resolve this soil issue," Williams recalls. "At the end of the day, we learned that we could treat the existing soil with lime to change the expansion index and make it suitable for backfill. This approach ended up turning a potential $2 million cost increase into a $450,000 cost increase-a total team effort that built trust and confidence that carried throughout the course of the project."

Q&D Construction Project Manager Lamonte Forgays agrees that the collaborative team approach at SBP was uncommon for a design-bid-build project-and key to its success. "The team's resolution of the soil issue had a significant impact on both time and costs, but everyone came to the table," says Forgays. "We met with the airport director, agreed to split costs and moved forward."

The team-centric culture also helped prevent common and potentially volatile strife regarding change orders-an inevitable part of any large project. Change orders may not have a significant impact on the project when considered individually, but they can have a substantial cumulative effect over the life of the project, explains Williams. If the costs associated with change orders are held until the end of the project, determining who is responsible for specific delays and the associated costs can become quite contentious, he notes.

Williams uses a travel analogy to illustrate the point: "It's as if you are taking a trip, run into a roadblock and are sent 20 miles in another direction. Over the course of your trip, this may occur a number of times. At the end of the trip, you've spent more time and money to get to where you need to go. These were costs you were not anticipating and for which you wish to be compensated."

To prevent end-of-project disagreements about various change orders, the team pulled together midway through construction to analyze additional costs and determine who was responsible for each line item. 

Returning to the travel metaphor: "Perhaps as a result of your detour, you decided to go sightseeing. Who is responsible for those costs?" Williams asks rhetorically.

"By gathering the team to create a wraparound agreement midway through the project, we were able to resolve lingering conflicts and resolve cost issues early on-items than can create hard feelings and take forever to resolve if left to the end of the project. The contractor was very fair," he continues. "We analyzed the actual conditions that occurred [to that point] of the project and agreed [who caused what.] We all agreed to accept our portions of costs and responsibility. It's as if midway through the project we were able to renegotiate a new start to the contract. These issues can result in difficult discussions in this industry. Here, everyone was fair and reasonable."

Knowing that terminal projects are not currently a high priority for FAA funding, Bumen is grateful for the $20 million of Airport Improvement Program funding support-the maximum allowed for a non-hub airport, he notes. The remainder of the $39.5 million project was paid for with passenger and customer facility charges, a third-party bank loan and local funding.

As a result, San Luis Obispo County now has a new terminal that allows for anticipated growth over the next 25 to 30 years, notes Bumen. Moreover, the building's high ceilings and large windows bring the beautiful Southern California environment into the building, he adds. "With the airport sitting in a valley, mountains in both directions, the views are spectacular."


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