Ticketing Hall Expansion Adds Much-Needed Space at Reno-Tahoe Int’l

Ticketing Hall Expansion Adds Much-Needed Space at Reno-Tahoe Int’l
Kristen Rindfleisch
Published in: 

Reno-Tahoe International Airport (RNO) opened a newly expanded Ticketing Hall in April, doubling its queue space with an additional 10,000 square feet. Beyond adding more room for queues, the Nevada airport also remodeled and upgraded its existing 35,000-square-foot hall with new public restrooms, ticketing kiosks, wayfinding signage and space for oversized baggage. A higher ceiling brings in natural daylight, improved sightlines and aesthetics—as well as more energy-efficient lighting.

The expansion is the first completed phase of the MoreRNO Infrastructure Program, the airport’s billion-dollar, multi-year project aimed to meet growing demand for air travel in the area. RNO, which is owned and operated by the Reno-Tahoe Airport Authority (RTAA), had experienced five straight years of passenger traffic growth from 2015 to 2020. During the pandemic, RTAA started a planning study to identify options to modernize and expand the Ticketing Hall and reconstruct the curbside and Loop Road.

Prior to the expansion, the passenger circulation hallway was narrow, with insufficient space for airline queues, which caused congestion during peak departure times. Wayfinding was confusing due to inadequate signage and limited visibility. There were no public restrooms in the Ticketing Hall and no available tenant space for existing or future airlines, compounded by the dwindling useful life of several building systems.


Project: Ticketing Hall Expansion
& Renovation

Location: Reno-Tahoe Int’l Airport, in NV

Size of Expansion: 10,000 sq. ft.

Renovated Space: 30,000 sq. ft.

Cost: $31 million for Ticketing Hall interior; $17.5 million for associated exterior work & Loop Road improvements

Funding: Cash; temporary letter
of credit; CARES Act grant

Construction: Oct. 2022–
April 2024

Key Components: Expanded queue & ticketing space; new restrooms; relocated elevator core; energy-efficient lighting; updated mechanical system; digital, intuitive wayfinding; updated curbside signage; exterior bollards for added security

Architecture, Planning, Project Management, Interior Design, Structural Engineering, BIM Coordination, Stakeholder Engagement, Low Voltage Common Use Only: RS&H

General Contractor: McCarthy Building Companies Inc.

Exterior Design: Kimley-Horn

Exterior Construction/Selective Demolition: Q&D Construction LLC

Civil Engineering, Geotechnical Survey: Wood Rodgers Inc.

Mechanical, Plumbing,
Fire Protection Engineering:
 Ainsworth Associates Mechanical Engineers

Electrical Engineering, Low Voltage (IT/Comm/Security): PK Electrical Inc.

Signage/Wayfinding: Selbert Perkins Design Collaborative

Cost Estimating: M Lee Corp.

Structural Masonry: Amazon Masonry

Doors & Hardware: American Door Installation

Architectural Metal Panels: Andy Russo Jr./B&B Specialties

Roofing: Commercial Roofers

Structural & Site Concrete: Concrete North

Terrazzo: Corradini

Expansion Joints: Expansion Specialties

Under-floor Ducts: Walkerduct

Fireproofing & Insulation: Gale Building Products

Curtainwall & Storefront: Giroux Glass

Ceiling Tiles: Armstrong

Structural Steel: Reno Iron Works

Electrical: Helix Electric

Inspection: Construction
Materials Engineers

Bathroom Accessories: Henri Specialties

Metal Roofing: Kodiak Roofing

Metal Siding: ALUCOBOND

Glazing Supplier: Guardian Glass

Framing/Drywall/Paint/Exterior Insulation Finishing System/Acoustic Ceiling Tile: M&H Building Specialties

Survey: Mapca

Wall & Floor Tiler: National Ceramic Tile & Stone Corp.

Reinforcing Steel: Northern Nevada Rebar

Fire Sprinkler System: Overhead Fire Protection

Civil/Utilities: Reno Tahoe Construction

HVAC Ductwork & Hydronics: Ryan Mechanical

Plumbing: Savage & Son

Architectural Millwork: Victory Woodworks

AV/Security/Communications: Teledata Technologies

Elevator: Koch Elevators

Bollards: Gibraltar

Temporary Construction Walls: SwiftWall

Final Clean: CC Cleaning

Key Benefits: Increased space to handle passenger growth; improved passenger experience; enhanced security

The airport teamed up with RS&H for design and McCarthy Building Companies as the construction manager at risk (CMAR) for the architectural expansion work. Kimley-Horn provided planning and design for the Loop Road, including a complete reconstruction of the roadway to improve accessibility, safety, aesthetics and the customer experience, as well as the design of the roadway grading and drainage and the bollard system and canopy additions. Q&D Construction executed the Loop Road work and continues to improve drop-off and pick-up areas, sidewalks, crosswalks and additional exterior infrastructure for the project.

Where, How and When to Expand

The project teams determined the best option to expand the Ticketing Hall was to push out to the west, taking advantage of a very deep curb front with room to spare. “They came up with the idea to just kind of reclaim 20 feet of that for the interior space and pushed out the front of the building, effectively,” says RTAA President/Chief Executive Officer Daren Griffin.

At the north end of the Ticketing Hall, the elevator core was relocated to the western edge of the terminal near the roadway and redesigned. It was upgraded with blue, angular aluminum composite material cladding on the outside of the building to reflect Lake Tahoe, with a color-changing lighted tower at the top like a beacon. The elevator entry portals use angular aluminum composite material panels as a wayfinding feature for passengers.

At the south end of the hall, designers moved a fire riser room to create additional space. “That’s a really complicated thing to relocate, but it was worth it,” Griffin notes.

With the additional space from the expansion, RNO and its team had to determine how to rework the passenger flow throughout the entrance and Ticketing Hall. Designers likened it to the flow of water. “Passenger hydrology was probably the key consideration in solving the problem and enhancing the experience of the airport,” notes Geoff Chevlin, studio leader of Aviation/Transportation Architecture with RS&H. Congestion (or “damming from existing support spaces” in terms of passenger hydrology) had been a major issue in the previous layout, so designers added more space for airline queues.

“During peak hours, lines were running all the way out to the entry vestibules, creating issues for airport and airline operations,” Chevlin says. “By relocating the elevator core, we removed the primary obstacle, opening up the space at the confluence of the circulation, resolving the issue and allowing that flow.”

To accomplish such change, RS&H and McCarthy engaged the airport stakeholders early in the process and kept them involved throughout the design. From the airlines and TSA to wheelchair vendors and concessionaires, all needed to be in the loop. “Our thought was, ‘this is only going to be successful if everybody is involved—airport, airlines and supporting tenants,’” Chevlin notes.

Minimizing the impact on travelers throughout construction was a shared goal. “We partnered with the RTAA marketing team early to communicate phasing, logistics and other impacts via social media,” recalls Cody Harris, project superintendent with McCarthy Building Companies Inc. The local news media also helped to reinforce this message with the general public. “We challenged ourselves to limit the ‘active’ construction footprint to allow ample space for passengers during the 18-month duration,” Harris says.

Doing so required full-time night shifts and intricate logistics for the remodeling work occurring outside the temporary walls. This included saw cutting and removing concrete; installing under-slab mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems; pouring concrete and demolishing/installing more than 30,000 square feet of floor tile. While this posed potential challenges, the team managed to keep the entire Ticketing Hall 100% ADA-compliant and active during this process, Harris notes. After each night’s work, the teams prepped the area for passenger traffic in the morning. For example, when the flooring was removed, they installed a temporary ramp system to eliminate trip hazards.

The teams used temporary construction walls by SwiftWall to separate the public space from construction areas while minimizing noise and controlling dust. Tent enclosures were erected around the work areas in front of the ticket counters to contain the construction dust. McCarthy hired local union laborers whose full-time job was cleaning ticket counters and active passenger spaces and managing the floor transitions and protections. “This made a significant difference and drove home the communicative and collaborative culture we strived to achieve as demonstrated during interactions with the team members, passengers and airline staff at the ticket counters,” Harris says.

Within the mechanical, electrical and plumbing phase, McCarthy replaced four outdated air handler units and completed ductwork for a new, larger air-handling unit. This required significant upfront planning and temporary ductwork that continued to heat and cool the Ticketing Hall throughout renovations—even after the entire exterior wall was removed during winter.

New Features

Something as simple as restrooms can really drive the customer experience, Griffin notes. RNO placed new restrooms that are quick, convenient and fully ADA-compliant in the front of the Ticketing Hall. “You wouldn’t realize how important restrooms are in a space, even just a small set; but people are really excited to have restrooms in that space,” notes RTAA Senior Project Manager Amanda Twitchell.

Raising the ceiling height from 10 feet to 15 feet required 30,000 square feet of acoustical ceiling tiles. “[Previously], the entire Ticketing Hall had kind of a dark, closed feeling to it,” Griffin comments. “Lifting up the ceiling does a tremendous amount to create more volume, more space; and the white ceiling tiles just make everything brighter and feel more accessible and easier to navigate.”

Terrazzo flooring subtly guides travelers through the Ticketing Hall to the center lobby, and a 14-foot-tall curtain wall provides a sightline for intuitive wayfinding. Illuminated, universal wayfinding signage was also added. “We’re creating an immediate interior-to-exterior connection from the drop-off point back to the ticketing counters by implementing a 14-foot-tall curtain wall that creates a visual connection from the curb to the counters,” Chevlin remarks.

Updated Design and Aesthetic

The airport is establishing a “modern mountain design” that combines glass, steel and concrete with warm touches like reclaimed wood walls and wood columns. “We’re really trying to make it more modern but keep it warm, like the nature that surrounds us,” Twitchell says. Three sections of the walls in the Ticketing Hall use reclaimed TerraMai wood from the West Coast.

The design team used both form and materials to create the new aesthetic—the modern being articulated in architectural forms and the mountain through materials. “The design embodies the natural context of crystal-blue water, open skies, carved stone and the harmonic rhythm of tree-line forests, which are present in the Lake Tahoe area and the high desert region surrounding Reno,” Chevlin explains.

Travelers are encouraged to visualize this modern mountain scene with large spans of blue glazing and angular forms of glass, metal siding and concrete contrasted with stone structures throughout the hall. Four portals sculpted with a cool gray metal siding in the spirit of granite help passengers navigate to the Ticketing Hall entry points. At the north end of the hall, a pearlescent blue obelisk rises as a beacon, cladding the elevator tower. To the south, stone and frosted glass structures housing various facilities penetrate the blue curtain wall, creating a connection between interior and exterior spaces. “A critical driver is that we make this a place that people don’t just want to fly through, they want to come to and enjoy their travel experience—this is for them,” Chevlin notes. “It’s important when we consider people in the equation…This is something that we’re doing for the community.”

A long mural above the ticketing counters features natural local elements.

Throughout the Ticketing Hall, travelers see the same particular shade of blue glass, which RTAA has dubbed “Tahoe Blue,” to evoke the imagery of nearby Lake Tahoe. The biggest application is on the 14-foot curtain wall. “People are kind of stunned at how beautiful that is, because it really reflects Lake Tahoe,” Griffin remarks. “It adds so much more natural light compared to what was essentially a closed wall in the old Ticketing Hall. The amount of light coming through now, along with that lifted ceiling and the blue tinting, they’re just really distinctive and unique—and reflect our region.”

Additional wedge-shaped pieces of Tahoe Blue glass appear in every structural “Y” brace throughout the Ticketing Hall. Beyond adding pops of color, they provide compliance with ADA and accessibility code requirements.

Above the ticketing counters, a massive 450-foot-long art piece titled Repeated Refrains, by Dixie Friend Gay, was installed in March 2024. Her piece uses 2D and 3D elements to create a collage of natural local elements, including the terrain, flowers, foliage, birds and butterflies. “The Reno-Tahoe area is full of rich hues, natural beauty and iconic images,” Gay said in a statement. “This vibrant piece is also a representation of that richness—the textures and colors of the seasons, the micro and macro elements and the shifting landscape.” The artist came to RNO several times for research, as it was important to RTAA that the art embodied the northern Nevada region.

Ivory and sage green tile flooring was installed throughout the Ticketing Hall, with black terrazzo “river rock” and a blue terrazzo “river” as accents igniting the idea of passenger hydrology and drawing people through the Ticketing Hall to the center of the terminal. Under-floor ducts were installed to support the airline kiosks.

Sustainable Components

Beyond using reclaimed wood, designers brought in natural light for efficient lighting, heating and cooling. Daylight sensors reduce the amount of artificial lighting and energy needed in the new space. Multiple units in the mechanical system (including one from the 1960s) were replaced to provide more efficient air circulation.

The increased natural light and views are welcome changes for passengers and staff alike. “After we opened everything, one of the Southwest employees told their boss that they felt happier in the space, and they thought that they treated passengers better [as a result],” Twitchell remarks. “They love the natural light; they love the views and just feel like it’s a happier space.”

Teams used local suppliers as much as possible and exceeded the 10% goal for participation of Disadvantaged Business Enterprises. Construction crews also crushed and recycled around 20,000 cubic feet of concrete, recycled the existing structural steel (100+ tons) and implemented recycled floor protection throughout the project.

Exterior Updates

With the footprint of the new Ticketing Hall expanding out over the previous curbside area, the drop-off and pick-up areas had to be updated as well. The Loop Road project began with the hall expansion and is scheduled for completion this fall. Q&D Construction is demolishing and reconstructing the inner loop for drop-off and exterior loop for pick-up.

Crews from Q&D are also improving sidewalks, crosswalks and other pavement and will be installing shade and weather covers in the curbside waiting areas. “This is an inherently exciting project because we’re working with Reno-Tahoe International Airport,” says Jeff Bean, Q&D Construction president – Heavy/Civil. “The growth of the airport means growth in the community, and we’re proud to support our community partners as well as the people of the Truckee Meadows Region.”

Digital dynamic signage by Daktronics was added in the drop-off area to identify various airline locations along the curbside. The signage can be programmed for simple text to specific airline colors and logos.

Designers specified a zero-height curb for the full length of the departures loading zone to improve accessibility and convenience for customers. “The project capitalized on the need for roadway rehabilitation to provide significant improvements to accessibility and safety,” notes Christian Heinbaugh, project manager with Kimley-Horn. “Traffic-calming measures including reduced lane widths, transverse rumble strips and elevated pedestrian crosswalks.”

The zero-height curb meant that roadway drainage needed to be redirected away from the sidewalk area, so Kimley-Horn designed an inverse crown roadway that drains into a longitudinal trench drain, which runs down the middle of the drop-off roadway. “We worked closely with the airport’s maintenance team to develop a trench drain design that is easily maintainable without significant impact to day-to-day airport operations,” Heinbaugh comments.

To increase safety for pedestrians and help protect the terminal building, RTAA added crash-resistant bollards along existing column lines outside the Ticketing Hall and baggage claim areas. The bollards, by Gibraltar, are designed to withstand significant intentional or unintentional impact from vehicles. They are also covered with decorative covers that coordinate with the sculpted aesthetics of the renovation project.

The spacing between bollards is engineered to deter vehicles but still allow travelers with baggage to navigate easily. “It’s a delicate balance of giving people room to move out there, but also protecting them, and I think we found the right balance,” Griffin remarks. “It’s unfortunate that it’s something we have to go through, but public safety is our first job as an airport operator, and that includes a lot of different lenses that you look through both from inside and outside the building.”

Bollards were placed to fit evenly between existing canopy columns, avoid underground utilities and allow maneuverability for snow removal equipment.  

Additional canopies were added to provide shelter for passengers in the loading areas for both departures and arrivals. Kimley-Horn worked with the Ticketing Hall expansion team to ensure the canopy designs worked well with existing canopies as well as other Ticketing Hall improvements.

Challenges and Solutions

During early planning and design, it was assumed that the roof covering the large drop-off could be augmented with walls to provide protection for airport guests. However, designers later realized it was not built to be entirely waterproof. “We had to quickly figure out how we were going to make this work because it was now going to be a part of the enclosed building,” Twitchell recalls. RTAA ultimately decided to use the existing roof and metal panels as the structural membrane to support a new prefabricated metal panel system. This solution saved money by requiring relatively minimal structural modifications and saved time by utilizing prefabricated components.

Multiple projects happening concurrently had the potential to complicate the work and/or lead to disjointed results; however, the Ticketing Hall Expansion team and Loop Road reconstruction team met regularly and reviewed each other’s plans to ensure the two projects would merge to meet the airport’s aesthetic goals and follow the MoreRNO program. Aesthetic elements like the bollard sleeves and canopy column fascia were strategically selected to unify existing elements and planned improvements at the airport. 

Aviation projects can be incredibly detailed and logistically challenging, Harris notes. During preconstruction, McCarthy looked at potential challenges as opportunities. “Planning our work while keeping the space 100% operational was the biggest challenge we encountered,” Harris says. “A fitting example is when we had to shut down a substation that fed power to the entire Ticketing Hall, baggage handling systems and airline communications systems. This took months of planning but was executed successfully in three hours without affecting operations.” The firms working together as a cohesive and collaborative team made it possible to push the limits and get creative, he adds.

Chevlin notes that fluctuating material costs was one of the biggest challenges during the project. “A main concern that we deemed a great opportunity was to solve the challenge of how the design team and the CMAR working as a team with the RTAA could achieve the financial goals of the client and keep this within budget,” he says. For example, the cost of the glazing for 14-foot curtain wall that covers nearly the entire 450 feet of the Ticketing Hall increased 40% in the last month of the process to establish the guaranteed maximum price. The team had to quickly decide whether to change the design or the materials to accommodate the cost increase. In resolving the issue, the team considered the potential need for value engineering—determining how to meet the project budget without compromising the programmatic and aesthetic design goals. Through simple tweaks with other materials and validating pricing with McCarthy during the draft Guaranteed Maximum Price reviews, no major changes were needed to the curtain wall.

The overall budget also posed a potential challenge. “We found a few surprises along the way but overcame them all thanks to the collaboration of the entire project team,” Harris recalls, noting that the project came in more than $1 million under budget.

Advice for Others

Above all, Griffin suggests finding the right team for a Ticketing Hall expansion. “It’s all about the people,” he emphasizes. Initially, RTAA was apprehensive about keeping the airport open and operating 365 days a year throughout construction, especially working around the Ticketing Hall and security checkpoint. “Having a great team is really essential, because that’s the only way you’re going to figure it out,” says Griffin.

Twitchell agrees that the project could have been more difficult and impactful on travelers if the team had not cooperated so well. “Both RS&H and McCarthy were great to work with,” she notes. “McCarthy was collaborative, proactive—they put a lot of effort and a lot of thought into how we can make this all work.” Passenger feedback received by RTAA indicates that the project was minimally disruptive, she adds.

Harris, representing the builder’s viewpoint, similarly highlights teamwork. “Having the right culture makes all the difference, which was a major success for this project,” Harris notes. “The aligned cultures of RTAA, RS&H and McCarthy created a great environment to work in.” Engaging airlines and other stakeholders early and consistently involving them in planning and construction coordination meetings was also essential, he adds.

Harris also encourages other airports to consider pursuing the construction manager at risk (CMAR) delivery method instead of traditional bidding. “The CMAR process lends itself to collaboration and involvement of all parties from early design through completion,” he says.

Chevlin from RS&H is a huge proponent of the method, too. “During design, the architect needs to see the contractor as their right-hand entity…and that they work closely and collaboratively together as one team, using the contractor as an integral member of the design team,” he notes. “And then during construction, that flips into the contractor seeing the architect as the right-hand person, working together.”

Kimley-Horn’s Heinbaugh notes that communication and coordination are important with any project, but they were absolutely critical at RNO, where two significant projects were occurring at the same time within the same general space. “We knew that despite having very detailed and well-thought-out construction timing and phasing plans, schedules were likely to evolve,” he reflects. “As such, it was critical to establish requirements in our specifications for the two contractors to coordinate and accommodate work on both projects, while also ensuring readily available access for the airport’s customers at all times.”

More to Come

The recently completed Ticketing Hall expansion is just the beginning of RTAA’s MoreRNO Infrastructure Program. After the Loop Road reconstruction wraps up this year, the spotlight will shift to a new Ground Transportation Center, which will be built by a private developer. The $299 million project will replace RNO’s existing rental car operation and co-locate rental cars with transportation network companies, shuttles and taxis, in a single facility located about a three-minute walk from baggage claim. Enabling work begins this summer; the new Ground Transportation Center is expected to open in 2028.

The airport is also in the early design stages of replacing both concourses and all 23 of its gates. The $570 million project, set to begin next year, will increase concessions space, add gate space for larger aircraft and upgrade technology for improved airline scheduling and shared kiosks.

“When it’s all done, it will be a new airport in many ways,” Griffin remarks.


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