Top-to-Bottom Renovations Breathe New Life into Newark Liberty

Jodi Richards
Published in: 

The $347.1 million Terminal B modernization at Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) is a project more than a decade in the making. Set off by growth in international traffic and further inspired by changing security requirements, the comprehensive initiative both expands and renovates a structure designed in the late 1960s.

EWR took an all-inclusive approach toward equipping Terminal B to meet the needs of today's airlines and travelers. The top-to-bottom initiative expanded the building from two to three levels. Features include a new inline baggage screening system, new passenger security halls, a new baggage claim area, new domestic departure hall and new ticket counters. In addition, crews redesigned the terminal's international departures hall and added extra airline passenger lounges, concessions and a welcome center. The project as a whole will be debuted in May.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey manages the majority of Terminal B, including 15 gates in the B2/B3 satellite and a 250,000-square-foot Federal Inspection Services U.S. Customs facility. Delta Air Lines manages the B1 satellite and its nine gates. EWR accommodates roughly 4.5 million annual passengers through its 15 international gates alone.

Project: Terminal Expansion/Renovation
Liberty Newark (NJ) Int'l Airport
Terminal: B
Operator: Port Authority of NY & NJ
Cost: $347.1 million
Grand Opening: May 2014
Noteworthy Timeline Points: Construction began in 2006; lower level ticket counter completed summer 2007; in-line baggage screening completed summer 2009; connector expansions completed spring 2010; mid- & upper-level renovations completed spring 2012; meet/greet area upgrades completed spring 2014
Design: Port Authority of NY & NJ; Voorsanger Architects
Project Management/Oversight:
Port Authority of NY & NJ; URS Corp.
Structural Engineering: Severud Associates
Construction: VRH Construction Corp.
Baggage Handling System Design: BNP
Concessions/Retail Developer: Westfield
Lighting Design: DGA Associates
Vertical Transportation: VTX
Custom Printed Laminated Glass: GGI
Decorative Glass Wall Panels: Bendheim
Glazing Contractor: Josloff Glass Co.
Lower level Interiors: McCann Acoustics & Construction
Lower Level Curved Soffits & Radii:
Flex-Ability Concepts
Stainless Steel Framing for Glass Wall Partitions: Gamco
Structural Alternations & Misc. Metals: Papp Iron Works

During the massive modernization program, EWR also completed $50 million of roadway modifications to better integrate the terminal's three levels into the airport roadway system.

James Heitmann, deputy general manager of New Jersey Airports, explains that significant growth of international traffic in 1999 led airport officials to begin planning the Terminal B modernization from a capacity standpoint. After 9/11, though, the terminal's capacity needs were punctuated with new baggage and passenger screening requirements. The international check-in and passenger checkpoint areas, already plagued by long lines, were further congested by new baggage screening devices required by TSA.

After 9/11, redevelopment of the terminal changed drastically, recalls Ron Reed, who was managing associate and director of transportation and overseas studios for Voorsanger Architects PC during the project. Voorsanger collaborated with the Port Authority on the terminal's new design. Currently, Reed runs his own practice, RREEDD studio.

In addition to relieving congestion and accommodating new security equipment, bolstering post-security passenger amenities also emerged as a top priority. "That became a major constraint after the security requirements went into effect," Heitmann recalls. "We had very limited post-security concessions and airline lounges."

Existing Constraints

Because of Terminal B's layout and location within EWR, it couldn't be torn down and rebuilt. "Terminal B is really smack dab in the middle, so you don't really have any room to expand," Reed adds.

The facility worked well when it opened in 1973, but simply didn't meet the demands of current industry needs, Reed notes. The baggage handling system and lack of space for queuing and passenger amenities made the terminal "inefficient and cumbersome" in the face of post-9/11 security requirements. Capturing and redistributing space became top priorities.

"This project is a great example of existing asset revitalization and reallocation of space," Reed explains. Careful planning and creative design allowed EWR to take a terminal that might otherwise have been demolished and upgrade it for less than half the cost, he notes.

"It really became about how to better utilize the space based on passenger experience," Reed relates. "From that perspective, we started reallocating space and [developing] ideas to gain those needs within the existing terminal footprint."

Critical Phasing

The project was organized into five different phases; and each phase was further subdivided into steps to allow the terminal to remain operational and minimize impact on airlines, concessionaires and travelers.

Reed considers the intricate phasing one of the "genius aspects" behind the project. "We basically did an entire terminal modernization/reconfiguration while maintaining full operation," he emphasizes.

Construction began in 2006 at grade level. A parking facility, which was no longer in use because of security requirements, was converted to accommodate domestic baggage claim, back office operations and ticket counters. The entire lower level, roughly 120,000 square feet, was excavated to increase clearance by two feet. 

Because work on the connector expansions and lower level areas occurred in completely new space, construction didn't impact passengers, Reed notes. Roughly 300,000 square feet was added to the backside of Terminal B for security zones, post-security concessions and additional airline lounges. Inline bag check zones were implemented on the operations level. With the addition, Terminal B now measures more than 1 million square feet.

After crews relocated existing domestic bag claim devices to the new lower level, EWR made an overnight switch when workers connected the new system then shut down the old one. The baggage belt system was also carefully phased. As new sections came online, old pieces were demolished before the next phase began. "It was really a monumental feat of effort on everybody's part," Reed relates.

Wayfinding signs for temporary facilities and additional customer care staff were crucial to minimizing impact on passengers during the project, adds Heitmann.

The former domestic bag claim area was reconfigured to house domestic departures. All the domestic airlines, which were previously intermingled with international departures in the original departures hall, are now down a floor, on the new level dedicated to domestic departures.

The Port Authority worked with concessions partner Westfield to develop a new mix of food/beverage and retail concepts for the new space.

An additional level on the B2 satellite made room for three airline lounges. British Airlines, Virgin and Lufthansa each outfitted a lounge for their respective customers. "There have been a lot of investments by the airlines, by the concessions - all for the benefit of the passengers," Heitmann comments.

Lufthansa, for instance, invested $3.7 million in its new Terminal B lounge. A common reception area leads to separate areas for business class and premium passengers. Together, the facilities span more than 4,000 square feet and can accommodate about 130 guests.

Cohesive Construction

Reed says he appreciates that the design team was able to reuse a late-1960s design and give new life to what was an "extraordinary structure at the time."

"We 're-lifed' a beautiful space and we maintained that integrity while inserting components and requirements of today's air travel," he states.

Terminal B now exhibits a cohesiveness that didn't exist before, Reed adds. "Anytime there (were improvements) at the terminal, they were always small projects; no one looked at it as a global project," he explains. "This was the first time since the terminal was opened that it was viewed as an entire terminal."

The new design integrates a previous hodgepodge of different designs and materials, he explains: "When you travel through the terminal, you feel like you're in one space - it's all related."
Designers made a special effort to make the security zone as comfortable and light as possible, he specifies. "Some people get very anxious about going through Security," he explains. A curtainwall and skylight allow for plenty of natural light, and one wall features a backlit layer of 3/8-inch onyx that is laminated with glass. "We were trying to create an environment that is very serene and calming," Reed elaborates. 

Instead of reconfiguring the original departures hall, the design team preserved its cathedral-like layout and high ceilings and simply "rethought the space." Offices that were originally behind the ticket counters were lifted onto a mezzanine level that floats over the new ticket counters. Doing so allowed planners to move the ticket counters back 15 feet and increase the amount of passenger queuing space without changing the terminal's footprint.

"It really created a dramatic space," enthuses Reed. "You have this late mid-century shell and inside you have this very lightweight, very contemporary structure that's an insertion into an already dramatic space."

Heitmann describes the new international meet-and-greet area as more free-flowing, because it allows passengers to exit the facility and recheck. Improvements to the vertical circulation allow travelers to access the space more easily, he adds.

The renovated and expanded space is greener, too. The Terminal B modernization was the first major project to be constructed under the Port Authority's sustainable guidelines. As such, crews used numerous recycled building materials throughout construction. Electrical substations were also upgraded and emergency generators installed to facilitate limited operations during extended power outages.

Long-lasting finish materials, like terrazzo flooring, are now part of Terminal B. The new addition, international departures hall and ticketing hall feature etched glass panel walls, providing a very light and clean appearance, adds Reed.

Terminal B's renovated halls, expanded passenger screening areas and new post-security amenities are all receiving great feedback from customers, Heitmann reports.

Looking forward, he notes that EWR plans to replace passenger loading bridges and increase ground power availability to better accommodate the industry's move toward larger aircraft.


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