Savannah/Hilton Head Builds $35 Million Parking Garage

Rebecca Douglas
Published in: 

Savannah/Hilton HeadIt's not often that a parking garage inspires people to linger and enjoy the views, but it happens all the time at Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport (SAV) in Georgia.

No, really; it does

Passengers often stop to gaze down from the wrought iron balconies or relax in the courtyard and watch the fountain at the entrance to the terminal. "It's the kind of place that makes you want to sit down and take it all in," explains Greg Kelly, director of operations.

Drivers in a hurry to catch a flight or meet incoming passengers appreciate the garage's electronic wayfinding system that directs customers to open parking spaces.

And everyone appreciates the roof - especially in summer when temperatures exceed 100 degrees. "We'd see cars circling our old garage when there were plenty of uncovered spots available on the upper level," explains executive director Patrick Graham. "They all wanted covered spots for shade, which I completely understood."

When SAV's new parking facility opened last October, the airport's inventory of covered parking tripled to nearly 3,000 spaces. Total capacity is almost 4,000 vehicles.

Where & What

With occupancy rates rising in existing lots and customers requesting more comfortable parking accommodations, the airport commissioned Ruth & Dunavant Architects to design an alternative. After considering five different locations, the planning team chose to build on the site formerly occupied by short-term parking, closest to the terminal.

"It was a bit of a double-edge sword," recalls Graham. "We knew it would ultimately provide the best service for customers, but it would also cause the most disruption during construction."

With the site selected, the planning team began reviewing multiple building renderings and designs. "They put a good amount of study into it and considered a variety of options," notes John Ruth, president and principal of Ruth & Dunavant. "They have a very nice terminal that they maintain impeccably; they didn't want to just stick a concrete box next to it."

Limiting the garage to four levels and 800,000 square feet helped keep the new structure in visual proportion with 340,000-square-foot terminal.

"It was important for the garage to complement the terminal, not overwhelm it," explains Graham.

Land for future expansion of the garage is available to the north, south and west, notes Ruth.

When presenting designs to the board, Graham provided a breakdown of a la carte options - brick exterior: $1 million; roof: $2 million; escalators: $1 million; atrium: $1 million.

"It showed the different forms the facility could take," he explains. "And it helped them decide exactly what they wanted."

A brick exterior quickly moved to the must-have list. It not only helped the parking structure blend with the existing brick terminal, it also showcases classic Southern style. Input from customers made the roof decision a slam-dunk, too.

"I'm a native of this city," notes Graham. "People know I want to hear what they think, and we really listen."

Some of the features not selected were a helix-style exit ramp (approximate cost: $2 million) and connecting all four levels of the atrium to the terminal for an additional $5 million. "They just seemed too costly for the value they would have added," explains Graham.

High-Tech Option

The garage's $793,000 electronic wayfinding network, Signal Park System, drew curiosity from the very beginning. Sensors above each parking space send signals to a computer that displays the specific number of spots open on each level and in each row via electronic signs throughout the garage.

Although Graham was immediately intrigued by the service the system could provide to customers, he was also taken aback by its rough per-space cost of almost $470.

"At first, it seemed expensive," he recalls, "but it's designed to last for 30 years. We pride ourselves in being an easy-in, easy out airport. This system gets right to the heart of that."

Planning team members talked directly with counterparts in Jacksonville, FL, and at Baltimore/Washington International to learn about their experiences with the system. Eventually, the prospect of providing unique service to Savannah/Hilton Head customers prevailed.

"It's really a great system," notes Graham. "Personally, I hate driving around looking for a parking spot. This directs you right to the level and aisle you need. I see it as the wave of the future, and not just at airports."

The system required some fine-tuning of zones and programming by the system's vendor, BKM Technologies; but the overall buzz about it has been overwhelmingly positive. On a recent trip to Atlanta, Graham received personal compliments about the system from the commissioner of community development for the state of Georgia.

Adjustments to the new garage's static signs were necessary, too. "The plan worked on paper," notes Kelly, "but when real customers began driving through, we needed to add a few more signs and make some refinements."

In the Meantime

During 13 months of construction, airport staff focused on the other edge of the sword Graham mentioned: keeping customers happy until the new garage was ready for business. A team even flew to South Carolina to glean tips from crews at Charleston International, who had recently managed a similar project.

Like Charleston, Savannah/Hilton Head pressed its remote economy lot into full service and rented a fleet of vans to shuttle passengers to and from the terminal. Initial research indicated that four 15-passenger vans would be sufficient, but three more were eventually added to make good on Graham's public pledge for wait times of only two to three minutes.

Charleston's experience also inspired the construction of a 500-foot covered walkway to keep customers out of the construction zone. "They told us that no matter how good the shuttle service is, some people will insist on walking," recalls Kelly. "That bore out here, too, and we're glad we put in the walkway earlier rather than later."

Facts and Figures

Project:  New Parking Garage

Location: Savannah/Hilton Head (GA) International Airport

Size: 4 levels; 1,690 spaces; 800,000 sq. ft.

Cost: $35 million

Unique Features: Electronic wayfinding system; courtyard

Rates: $1/hour; $12/day; $60/week

Construction: 13 months

Design: Ruth & Dunavant Architects

Key Participants

Prime Contractor: Shelco Construction

Project Manager: URS/Polote

Structural Engineer: Hussey, Gay, Bell & DeYoung

Precast Concrete & Brick Forms: Metromont

Revenue Control: Amano McGann

Parking Management: Standard Parking

Electronic Wayfinding System: BKM Technologies

Piece by Piece

Construction of the four-level garage was different than most people expected. After water, sewer and drainage work was complete, the structure began arriving in large pre-cast pieces that were assembled with cranes. Roughly 1,100 forms were trucked in from three separate plants.

"There was no pouring or bricklaying done on site," explains Graham.

The design garnered an award from the Precast Prestressed Concrete Institute, and Shelco Construction drew high praise for putting all the pieces together.

"They're one of the best contractors I've ever dealt with," notes Graham. "We had very few issues, and the few we had worked out well."

"It all went surprisingly quickly," recalls Kelly.

The garage's safety systems were put to the test earlier this summer, when a car caught on fire. Additional standpipes suggested by the airport fire department during the design phase proved to be very effective.

"We had to replace a few components of Signal Park System and scrub some soot off the walls, but there was no structural damage," reports Kelly.



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