JetBlue Battles Site Challenges During Construction of New Terminal

Nicole Nelson
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JetBlue Airways Terminal 5 will be an oasis at John F. Kennedy International Airport when it opens in October. Construction of the $743 million terminal, however, has been an ongoing battle with a natural oasis six feet below the building site.

"The water table at Kennedy is very high because it is right on the seafront," explains Michael Chalmers, officer-in-charge of the project for DMJM Harris, airside and landside engineer of record. "That means that any construction we have that goes into the ground goes into water all of the time.

"The risk on a project like this is underground because you don't know what is down there," Chalmers notes. "You can do investigations and you can try to trace old utilities, but you don't know all of the soil conditions and you don't know everything that is down there until you start digging."

Because JetBlue's new terminal sits on an old site that had been used by TWA and other airlines for 40 years, DMJM Harris cleared out decades worth of subsoil contaminants including jet fuel, diesel fuel and deicing fluids. It also removed utilities that were as old or older, which prompted the need for continual dewatering.

"We are digging in the water in order to put utilities in," Chalmers explains. "Any pits, like the storm water lift station and the sanitary sewer lift stations, take a lot of doing because we're building down in the water and have to create bathtubs down there to do constant dewatering so we can actually build before we can backfill.

"Most of the utilities are in the water, so it has been difficult, slow and expensive. That is building at Kennedy."

Close Quarters

In addition to a high water table, JetBlue has had its share of other challenges with the physical layout of the site, says Richard Smyth, vice president of redevelopment.

The proximity of the old TWA building to the west side of the Terminal 5 apron has presented a "very real challenge," says Chalmers.

"There is a blast fence that runs very close to the side of the old building," he explains. "Since we can't touch the building and we can't change the apron configuration for Terminal 4, we have a corridor with roads and a lot of utilities that run through a very narrow bottleneck."

Facts and Figures

Project: JetBlue Airways Terminal 5

Location: John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK)

Size: 635,000 sq. ft. on 78 acres

Cost: $743 million ($80 million funded by JetBlue, the remainder by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey)

Terminal Operator: JetBlue Airways

Architect and Interior Designer: Gensler

Design Management: Arup

Design Consultant: Rockwell Group

Construction Management: Turner Construction

Civil Engineer: DMJM Harris/AECOM

Airport Operator: Port Authority of New York  and New Jersey 

These and other challenges, says Chalmers, have by and large been overcome as the project nears its opening date of Oct.1, 2008.

Almost Complete

JetBlue is also incorporating and respecting the iconic Eero Saarinen-designed TWA terminal while building a flagship and home base of its own.

The new 635,000-square-foot terminal, designed by Gensler, will include 26 gates to accommodate 20 million annual passengers on up to 250 daily flights. The design features a departures hall with a 20-lane centralized security checkpoint and a 55,000 square-foot marketplace with 22 restaurants and 25 retail stores. Smyth describes the look as distinctly European.

"Most of the construction is complete," Chalmers reported in mid-August. "Of course, the last one or two percent is always making sure everything works correctly.

"We are going through the process of certification with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. As landlord, they have to approve and certify all work before we can have an occupancy certificate."

All new systems must be inspected, tested and reviewed. The new hydrant fuel system, for instance, was checked, cleaned, pressurized and certified.

"We have gone through the process of inspection and testing and sign-off during these last couple of months to make sure everything is working properly and is safe before the Port Authority signs off on the building," Chalmers says.

When sign-off occurs, all parties are expected to be pleased with the 635,000 square feet that JetBlue will call home.

The airline is currently operating 14 gates out of Terminal 6 next door. Bursting at the seams throughout Terminal 5's construction period, JetBlue built an additional temporary facility adjacent to the new terminal to provide seven extra gates to supplement its soon-to-be evacuated facilities at Terminal 6.



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