Snow Removal Equipment at Juneau Int’l Gets A New Home

Snow Removal Equipment at Juneau Int’l Gets A New Home
Paul Nolan
Published in: 

In Alaska, the days start to cool quickly in September, and by October, daily high temperatures struggle to reach 50 degrees. At Juneau International Airport (JNU), the ground maintenance team knows what’s looming: cold, freezing rain in autumn, followed by an average snowfall of more than 85 inches during winter.

For years, crews have kept JNU running through harsh winters with a collection of sand trucks, plows, power brooms and deicing tankers that are now, in many instances, more than 20 years old.

Until recently, the fleet took a pounding from the elements because the airport’s 1950s equipment building could not accommodate large modern vehicles. The vehicle bays were too small to house the equipment or allow personnel to safely perform many maintenance tasks; most of the equipment was left outside year round for lack of indoor storage space.


Project: Snow Removal Equipment Building

Location: Juneau (AK) Int’l Airport

Facility Size: 43,000 sq ft

Cost: $31 million for new building, adjoining 3,300-sq-ft wash bay & the sand/chemical storage facility currently under construction

Funding: About 94% FAA Airport Improvement Program grants; 6% local sales tax revenue

Design: ECI Architecture 

Contractor: F&W Construction

Completed: Jan. 2018

Key Benefit: Protecting snow removal equipment from harsh winter weather 

Related Projects: New building is 2nd phase of 4-phase plan for snow removal equipment facilities

Of Note: Improved storage facilities inspired FAA to provide $5 million for new equipment; another $5 million is anticipated in coming years

In January 2018, construction was completed on a new 43,000-square-foot snow removal equipment building (SREB) with indoor parking for the airport’s entire 23-piece fleet. Nine months later, an adjoining 3,300-square-foot wash bay was completed. Now, it’s much easier for crews to clean off snow removal chemicals and sand, which can be extremely harsh on equipment components. 

Due next is a $9.7 million sand and chemical storage facility, which is scheduled to be completed this October, and an equipment fueling station that will be ready by early November. Plans also call for a maintenance shop, lighting shop, offices, training room, locker rooms and staff support space. A timetable for those facilities is still in the works. 

New Facility Begets New Equipment 

The $31 million SREB has been a long time coming, says Catherine Fritz, airport architect at JNU. 

“This project has made such a phenomenal difference for Juneau to be able to do the work we were already doing, but do it more efficiently and safer for everyone. The airfield crew is incredibly resourceful, and they have done a remarkable job keeping our airport open and safe under all kinds of weather conditions. Some of the things they had to do to make that work we don’t necessarily want to brag about,” Fritz muses.

While the new facility was being built, Airport Superintendent Scott Rinkenberger told local reporters, “We spend a lot of money on equipment repairs, and it’s directly related to it being exposed to the elements 365 days a year. My maintenance staff is constantly battling with trying to keep this equipment up and running.”

In reports filed to support their funding request, airport executives explained that a lack of proper storage facilities caused vehicles to waste fuel and incur extra wear on the engines because they had to keep their motors running to prevent them from freezing. Reports also communicated safety concerns about vehicle maintenance areas.

Fritz, who pays meticulous attention to numbers, says the project was 93.75% funded with FAA Airport Improvement Program grants. Juneau voters approved a measure to use sales tax revenue to cover the remaining cost of the airport improvements that were not eligible for FAA funding.   

The much-needed storage facility cleared the way for FAA to fund much-needed equipment upgrades, says Fritz. Previously, the FAA was disinclined to allocate money for new snow removal equipment that would be parked outside through the brutal Alaska winters, she explains.

“These pieces of equipment that are needed to maintain an airport in the winter are expensive,” she remarks. “We had gotten to the point where the FAA was reluctant to give us additional funding for equipment unless we had a garage to park it in because the equipment deteriorates so quickly and there are safety problems for the crew that has to try to keep the equipment running.”

Since the SREB was completed, JNU has received $5 million in FAA funding for new equipment. So far, the airport has taken delivery of three new MB2 plow/broom vehicles to replace its 16-year-old high-speed runway brooms. Total cost for the order was $2.24 million. JNU also has a $1.4 million build order with Oshkosh Airport Products for a trio of six-wheel drive, six-wheel steer plows with 10-yard dump bodies. The airport expects to take delivery of those vehicles in spring 2020 to replace 21-year-old plow/dumps. The purchase of additional units will be prioritized in due course.

“We’re in the process of upgrading the entire fleet now that we have the facility to park them in,” says Fritz. “We are scheduled to receive another $5 million in FAA grants for equipment in a few years.”

Still on the airport’s wish list is funding for additional vehicle maintenance space. Mechanics currently perform major repairs in a makeshift facility that was built in the 1960s for other uses.

Locally Designed & Built

The new SREB was designed by Anchorage-based ECI Architects, and the project’s main contractor was F&W Construction, also out of Anchorage. Dawson Construction from Juneau is building the sand and chemical building.

Airport personnel and the ECI design team studied how several other cold weather airports house their equipment. A key element to the design they ultimately developed is allowing equipment to move forward rather than backward. Equipment drives into the wash bay where it is cleaned before proceeding forward into the parking area. According to Rinkenberger, 90% of incidents with the large vehicles occur when they are backing up.

When planning the new facilities, JNU executives wanted to continue the airport’s use of renewable heating and cooling sources. The SREB and sand/chemical storage facility are consequently heated and cooled by a geothermal system. (See sidebar on Page 60 for more details.)

A similar system was installed in part of the passenger terminal when it underwent renovations from 2009 to 2011. 

Like many other business leaders, officials at JNU insist that employees are their greatest asset. However, they also acknowledge that upgrades like the new SREB go a long way to boost morale and keep workers engaged.

“The whole airfield operations crew is happier and more excited about their work,” Fritz reports. “They’re feeling like a valued part of the team.” 

Even In Alaska, It’s Possible to Extract Underground Heat

Alaska has some of the largest oil fields in North America, yet Juneau International Airport (JNU) incorporated a geothermal heating and cooling system in its new facilities for snow removal equipment to decrease the airport’s reliance on fossil fuels. 

The closed-loop geothermal system is like a fuel tank in the ground, says Doug Murray, a mechanical engineer and principal with PDC Engineers, the engineering company that oversaw installation. Geothermal systems use underground piping to convert the ground’s constant temperatures into a heating and cooling source.

Workers drilled 144 boreholes on 20-foot centers, each 300 feet deep, in a 24x6 grid on an open lot adjacent to the airport’s new snow removal equipment building (SREB) and sand/chemical storage facility. They buried U-shaped tubes in each borehole and connected the tubes to Daikin TGZ model water-to-water heat pumps in the SREB. A mixture of propylene-glycol and water constantly circulates through the tubing, absorbing heat from the ground during winter and taking heat from indoors and transferring it back into the earth during summer.

The new geothermal system is a more advanced version of a system JNU installed in a portion of its passenger terminal about 10 years ago. The technology has advanced even in the last decade, Murray notes. Bids are going out this fall to complete the next phase of terminal work, which will include extending the geothermal system throughout the entire building.

“Geofields get us off of a diesel-based system and give us an efficiency factor that makes the electric heat pump system highly efficient,” says JNU Architect Catherine Fritz.

Because geothermal systems cost exponentially more to install than traditional fossil fuel-based systems, it’s challenging to find proponents in the business world who will undertake these projects, says Murray. Burying a fully monitored double-wall oil tank in the ground costs $50,000 compared to the $1 million cost of a complex closed-loop geothermal system like the one JNU installed.

Once installed, however, the geothermal system provides cheaper and more efficient renewable energy than fuel. He expects the airport’s new geothermal system to have a performance coefficient of at least 2.5, which essentially means that it is 250% efficient. “If you put $1 of electricity into the heat pump to turn its motors and compressors, you get $2.50 of heating or cooling out of it,” explains Murray. “It seems like magic, but that’s the beauty of it.”

In addition to delivering environmental benefits, geothermal systems have a better cost/value ratio than burning fuel when analyzed over decades, adds Murray. The airport’s first geothermal system in the passenger terminal paid for itself in fuel cost savings within eight years, he reports. Officials anticipate a similar payback period for the new geothermal system.



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