El Paso Int'l Renovates General Aviation Customs Facility

Rebecca Douglas
Published in: 

Airport Maintenance crews performed exterior renovations to complement the complete interior overhaul contractors provided inside.

For five months, the general aviation arm of U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP) at El Paso International Airport operated from a doublewide trailer. But those days are long forgotten, now that officers are settled back into their revamped, upgraded facilities.

Facts & Figures

Project: Customs & Border Protection General Aviation Facility Renovation

Location: El Paso (TX) International Airport

Cost: $303,900

Size: 2,100 sq. ft.

Timeline: March - July 2009

Architect: Mijares Mora Architects

Contractor: Matyear Construction Co.

Scope: Complete Interior Remodel/Reconfiguration; Minor Exterior Upgrades

Key Benefits: Better workflow and improved sightlines; upgraded technology; new agriculture room/lab, detention cell & passenger waiting area

The decision to move CBP to temporary quarters during the nearly $304,000 renovation was two-fold. "We wanted to minimize disruption to their operation, and we wanted to give the contractor the space in its entirety," explains director of aviation Monica Lombraña, "If we had kept CBP in place and phased the work, it would have added about two months to the schedule."

"Moving out was the best strategy," agrees El Paso port director William Molaski. "It allowed the contractor to move forward without having to take into account operational issues, and we didn't have to continually unhook and hook back up our systems."

With the entire facility at its disposal, contractors tore out all interior elements (walls, flooring, ceiling, etc.) and completely renovated and reconfigured the 2,100-square-foot interior from March through July 2009. Hallways separating main workspaces from the restrooms and passenger waiting area were removed to improve sightlines and enhance security for the facility with airfield access.

Improvements in Every Corner

A new agriculture room facilitates the inspection of produce and other live specimen entering the country. A new lab allows officers to perform a variety of on-site tests, such as checking food for parasites. Before the renovation, officers could test for drugs; now they have all the capabilities of a full-service Federal Inspection Service facility at their disposal.

The addition of a detention/holding cell boosts the facility's enforcement capabilities. "Violators can now be processed on-site instead of transported to another location," explains Molaski. "This helps keep our most precious assets, the officers, in place."

Monica Lombrana

Overall flow of the facility, he adds, was greatly improved. The building's previous single, open space was divided into separate areas for various functions, including office space and a break room. A new "storefront" counter was installed for servicing passengers and a conference room was added.

"The new layout is much more conducive to the work they do there," comments Lombraña. "Before, everything happened in the same big space."

Prior to the renovation, passengers waited for service in a small, cramped hallway - no treat after a long flight in a relatively small aircraft, notes Molaski. "Now it's a more comfortable, friendlier area," he relates. "Customs and Border Protection is about enforcement, but it's also the first face someone sees when they're coming into the country. This facility is very functional and efficient for enforcement, but it also shows that we're a welcoming nation at the same time."

Updated restrooms, flooring, millwork and wall and ceiling finishes add to the "new" look of the facility. New HVAC and electrical systems provide behind-the-scenes improvements.

William Molaski

Of the total $303,900 budget, $150,000 was spent on utilities and infrastructure, $118,00 on structural elements, $11,000 on fixtures and $24,900 on construction management and administration.

In a coordinated tenant/landlord effort, CBP upgraded its own systems while the airport made architectural changes to the physical space.

"It takes just as much technology to clear a private aircraft as a commercial airliner," notes Molaski.

CBP's new equipment expedites processing travel documents required by the post-9/11 Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative. "The new technology increases officers' ability to electronically obtain information about passengers," explains Molaski. "Travel documents are scanned in, and the information pops up, with much less keystroking."

What Do You Think?

According to Lombraña, inviting CBP staff to participate in the design phase of the new office helped ensure the project's success. "We all worked with the architect to make sure the space would work," she explains. "By including our tenant in the process, we were able to balance their needs with the public budget we had to work with. After all, they are the ones who will use the facility day after day; they know what will help them serve passengers."

The renovation, however, wasn't completely devoid of snags. During demolition, crews discovered that one of the interior walls scheduled for relocation was made out of concrete, and was, therefore, not going anywhere.

"With an old building, you always have a few surprises," Lombraña notes resiliently. "We all worked together to refine the design."

It's Catchy

Although exterior work wasn't initially scheduled, it was added to the plan as the top-to-bottom interior overhaul neared completion.

"We concentrated our efforts inside, because that's where the operational improvements were needed," notes Lombraña. "Everything was structurally OK with the exterior, so we didn't focus on it. In the end, though, the interior changes were so dramatic, we had to address the exterior aesthetics, too."

Instead of asking the city of El Paso to increase the project's $303,900 budget, Lombraña mobilized airport maintenance crews to paint the building's exterior and move existing signage to make it more visible from the road. In-house personnel also spruced up the patio area by installing railing that was recently removed from the airport's main terminal.

Matyear Construction pitched in by providing a low-cost idea for changing the facility's 1970s façade. "They installed siding to cover some of the floor-to-ceiling windows," Lombraña explains. "It gives the building a whole new look without the cost of new windows."

No improvements were made to the facility's 120,000-square-foot apron area.

GA's Day in the Sun

Securing municipal funding for the facility renovation wasn't difficult, reports Lombraña. "Everyone knew it was time," she explains. "Often, officials aren't aware of the airport's general aviation traffic because it's located in separate facilities; but everyone was excited about the improvements."

At El Paso International, general aviation accounts for more than 30% of overall traffic - approximately 31,700 of 98,800 total operations in 2009.

"That's a significant portion of our traffic," Lombraña notes. "We want to make traveling into El Paso as positive and pleasurable an experience as possible - and that includes general aviation."

Although the newly remodeled facility doesn't rank as a primary frontline location for CBP, it's an important element of the agency's "layered enforcement" strategy, notes Molaski.

"It's another piece in the cog of homeland security," he explains. "We need to be just as vigilant there as a larger international airport or major landside point of entry."

The facility's new layout and added capabilities were especially helpful in March, when officers processed passengers from 181 private aircraft - a record high for the previous six months. According to assistant El Paso port director Norman Bebon, 135 to 140 aircraft a month are more typical for the "transit terminal" facility.

Although overall enplanements are down, El Paso International served about 3 million passengers last year - enough to rank as the second largest small hub airport in the United States.


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