South Bend Airport Completes Expansion & Changes Leadership

Rebecca Kanable
Published in: 

Before John Schalliol retired as executive director of South Bend Airport (SBN) in Indiana, he oversaw the culmination of a $15.8 million concourse project that added five new gates, 45,000 square feet of terminal space and numerous passenger conveniences. The final phase, which consolidated passenger screening and added advanced imaging technology, debuted in February, just prior to his retirement celebration.

Reflecting on his 35 years at the airport, he says he couldn't have envisioned such a modern "big-city" terminal when he was hired as SBN's airport engineer in 1977. Back then, he worked in a 1949 terminal building designed for 25,000 annual passengers that eventually accommodated about 400,000 per year.

"It was extremely crowded," he recalls.

Throughout his 31 years as airport director, Schalliol was responsible for several waves of improvement projects, including a new terminal building that opened in 1981, the year he became executive director. Looking back, Schalliol says it seemed like the new facility would last forever. "You always think that when you build something like that," he reflects.

The project was, however, a game-changer, because it incorporated intercity rail, interstate bus and air in one multi-modal terminal. The new facility was built adjacent to the 1949 terminal building, which was torn down as the new building expanded to the east. Subsequent additions in 1986 and 1994 expanded the terminal to about 155,000 square feet, but ultimately did not suffice.





Project: Terminal & Concourse Expansion

Location: South Bend (IN) Airport

Owner/Operator: St. Joseph Co. Airport Authority

Cost: $15.8 million

Size: 45,000 sq. ft.

Phase I: New food and retail concessions, business center with free wi-fi, children's play area

Opened: Nov. 2010

Phase II: Concourse extension, additional gates, increased seating & directional signage

Opened: Aug. 2011

Phase III: Consolidation & expansion of passenger screening area

Opened: Feb. 2012

Funding: Airport Improvement Fund, Passenger Facility Charges, airport operating revenue

Architect/Designer: Ken Herceg & Associates

General Contractor: Majority Builders

Mechanical, Electrical, Plumbing Engineer: Primary Engineering

Structural Engineer: CE Solutions

Hearing Loop System: Hearing Loop Systems, a division of Ascom

Exit Lane System Mfg.: Blasi

Exit Lane System Installer: Door Control Services

Boarding Bridge Refurbishing: Ameribridge

Holdroom Seating: Herman Miller

Key Benefits: 5 new gates; consolidated, upgraded passenger screening; enhanced exit lane security; new post-security concessions; business center; children's play area; refurbished boarding bridges, additional holdroom space & seating

SBN's most recent concourse expansion, which began in 2009, brought the terminal to about 200,000 total square feet and enables it to handle up to 1 million annual passengers. Last year, the airport accommodated more than 599,000 passengers.

At 600 feet long and 80 feet wide, the long, skinny addition was designed to accommodate 727s. Five new gates bring the airport's total to nine. The east side of Concourse A was extended past the old Concourse C walkway, which has been demolished. Inside the new 45,000-square-foot addition, passenger screening has been consolidated into a single larger location. New technology added during the expansion includes advanced imaging machines for passenger screening, a revolving door for exit lane security and a hearing loop system.

An updated, modern look was also part of the plan. Architects from Ken Herceg & Associates consequently specified an arching translucent panel roof and terrazzo flooring. The shape of the building addition includes a curve that's reminiscent of the cross section of an airplane wing, explains chief architect Timothy Wall, AIA, LEED AP. A water feature with seven bubbler fountains provides humidification as well as visual appeal, adds Wall. Like the overall addition, the fountain is long and skinny, stretching for nearly 58 feet, but less than 6 feet wide.

Consolidating Passenger Screening

After adding two gates and numerous passenger amenities during the project's first phase, SBN extended its new concourse and added three more gate positions and associated holdroom seating. Both phases paved the way for the airport to revamp its passenger screening by consolidating two former checkpoints and holdroom areas into one larger area with two lanes.

Previously, passengers walked to the screening area through a small, sloping hallway. Now they use a much wider, better-lit corridor, notes Wall. The screening area itself is also twice as large, with room to add a third lane if passenger counts increase.

"In this day and age, it didn't make sense to have two checkpoints and two holdrooms," Schalliol explains, noting that the new design provides just the kind of amenities passengers want.

Airport officials worked with TSA throughout the checkpoint design process. On the same day SBN opened its new security checkpoint, TSA started using an L-3 millimeter wave Advanced Imaging Technology unit to detect potential threats, including weapons and explosives concealed under layers of clothing. Nationwide, TSA uses the $150,000 machines in about 160 airports.

Jim Fotenos, TSA's Midwest spokesman, notes that the new technology enhances privacy because it eliminates the need for passenger-specific images. The machine searches for hidden items or anomalies and displays them on a generic outline of a person. Every passenger that passes through the unit is portrayed by same outline image.

The energy emitted by millimeter wave technology is 1,000 times less than the energy emitted by a cell phone, adds Fotenos.

Although SBN was already using revolving doors for exit lane security, its new Blasi ELS 8000 revolving door better accommodates passengers with large carry-on items or strollers. Previously, such passengers would push on the smaller revolving units, which caused the doors to stop. At 16 feet across, the new, larger door helps alleviate that problem.

"You can go from the secure side to the public side, but if you try to go from the public side to the secure side, the door will stop and back you out and alarms will go off," Wall explains, noting that anything larger than a matchbook will be detected. Sensors on the revolving door help prevent passengers from throwing a weapon on the floor, hoping to sweep it around to the secure side, or sticking something to the wall for subsequent retrieval, he adds.

Now Boarding

Schalliol likes that SBN doesn't have elevators, escalators or stairs. Having all passenger services on one level makes it inherently accessible, he notes.

Airside, a mix of three ground-level gates and six boarding bridges continues the focus on accessibility. Prior to the recent improvements, none of SBN's positions had ground power units; now they all do.

A blend of refurbished and re-utilized equipment helped stretch the budget. The airport contracted Ameribridge to refurbish two of its existing jetway passenger boarding bridges. One, which was refurbished on site, is already complete. SBN also pulled from the company's inventory of used cores for two refurbished boarding bridges and a fixed walkway.

The equipment that is new to the airport was refurbished to its particular specifications, including new low-rider wheel bogies to accommodate the facility's short terminal height. The units also received new AC drive conversions, controls, paint and metal repair.

Ameribridge sales manager Chad Sloan estimates equipment and service for a refurbished unit is 40% less than a comparable new bridge. He also notes that refurbished bridges have a dramatically smaller carbon footprint/environmental impact, because they use the majority of existing structural steel components.

According to Sloan, a refurbished bridge will last 10 to 15 years with proper preventive maintenance. The lifecycle, he adds, is about the same as a new unit.

Passenger Perks Came First

The initial phase of the expansion project, which ended in November 2010, added about $8.5 million of improvements, including two additional gates and new passenger amenities. Post-security, there's now a deli, lounge, grab-and-go food options, gift shop, children's playroom and a business center with charging stations and free Wi-Fi. More seating and restrooms were also added.

Before, passengers had a vending machine and video game - and that was it. Now, there are many more options and a great view of the runways, notes Wall.

"We've tried to give passengers a better experience," Schalliol summarizes.

He is particularly proud of the airport's new hearing loop system - an idea gleaned from Gerald R. Ford International Airport in Grand Rapids, MI. The system enables hearing-impaired passengers to receive public address announcements directly through telecoil-equipped hearing aids. To receive a signal from the loop, which allows them to hear gate and flight announcements, passengers simply switch their hearing aids to the T-coil position.

"I think it's great," notes Schalliol.

The system is especially beneficial because the airport's new space is filled with hard surfaces such as the curved ceiling, terrazzo flooring, glazed block walls and windows. Such materials reverberate sound and make messages from public address systems difficult for hearing-impaired visitors to understand, explains Tim VanderMeer, engineer and project manager with Hearing Loop Systems.

SBN's hearing loop system was installed under the terminal's new concrete slab. Due to the elongated shape of the concourse, multiple loops were required. Initially, pages are being transmitted in one zone, explains VanderMeer, but each gate could be zoned separately since there are loops in front of all of them.

A "playport" was added to accommodate airport visitors with small children, notes Elizabeth Cecconi, SBN's former director of marketing and development. "Having a play area on site allows children to run off a bit of energy before boarding an aircraft, thus helping to make the flight experience a bit more enjoyable for all," explains Cecconi, who helped outfit the area.

Most of the play equipment is from Step2, which Cecconi says was chosen for its reputation as an American manufacturer of durable play equipment. Aviation-themed equipment in the playroom includes a biplane rocker by Rockabye Toys and a Lifetime Ace Flyer Teeter Totter.

Foam tiles arranged like a runway encourage children to pretend to be airplanes themselves. In the background, glazed concrete blocks were painted in rainbow colors to add to the playful feel.

When adding a second set of restrooms post-security, SBN included a nursing room with soft chairs and a changing table to further assist families with infants and small children.

Green Features

Airport officials made environmentalism a priority in the design of the expansion project, notes Schalliol. The curved roof, for instance, is made of a structural composite called Kalwall.

"It's a fiberglass product that has a higher insulating value than a glass skylight, but it allows (diffused) natural light, to shine through", Wall explains.

Electric lights are rarely on during the daytime thanks to the building's daylight harvesting system. As natural light increases, the electric lights automatically turn off.

Heating and cooling is also computer-controlled, and is provided by a geothermal system. Heat pumps for the building are controlled over the airport network and can be monitored and changed from airport maintenance staff computers. The geothermal system eliminates the need for cooling towers and the water treatment units needed to prevent lime scale deposits in them. The several miles of piping that extract heat from the ground during cold winter weather were buried in a five-acre field between the taxiways. In summer, the system extracts heat from inside the building and diffuses it into the ground.

The terminal's heating system also runs a new snow melt system for the airport's ground loading ramps. Temperature sensors trigger warm liquid to flow through pipes under the concrete slabs to melt snow and ice. Trench drains at the bottom of the ramps capture the melting snow and ice.

Building Challenges

Construction for SBN's expansion took 27 months and spanned two winters, including three months of weather-related delays.

Working on the secure side of the airport for 90% of the project created challenges for the general contractor, Majority Builders, and nearly 40 subcontractors.

"It took some extra planning," says Majority's project manager, Kermit Stutzman.

To bolster security, the contractor erected 1,500 linear feet of eight-foot tall construction fencing topped with barbed wire. Workers and their equipment were bussed into the site each day, and Majority contracted a catering truck to sell food for lunch. At the end of each phase, the fence was moved to the next location.

After the eastern half of the new concourse opened in August, passengers were routed through a temporary checkpoint in the old building and outside through a temporary plywood walkway constructed by Majority.

"The challenge there was luggage tugs still had to come through that area," Stutzman recalls, noting that a 12-foot-wide section was left for such vehicles.

Security personnel were added for passenger control and to help separate tug and pedestrian traffic.

Despite the 25-foot walk outside with just a temporary roof over their heads, no passengers complained, reports Schalliol, noting that mild winter weather undoubtedly helped.

A New Phase Ahead

According to Stutzman, the overall construction itself was not complex. Having grown up in the South Bend community, he looks forward to showing his kids and grandkids the terminal he helped build.

"People are surprised it looks as large as it does for the size town we're in," he notes. (South Bend has a population of about 101,000.)

Schalliol considered it a compliment when arriving passengers would mistakenly assume they had landed at one of the area's larger major airports.

Mike Daigle, who took over as SBN's executive director in February, agrees: "People are amazed and impressed when they deplane into the new facility. The improvements that have been recently completed at SBN are exceptional. They have positioned the airport to meet and exceed the needs of our local community and our customers today and into the future."

With recent infrastructure improvements in place at SBN, Daigle is optimistic about applying his nearly 35 years of aviation experience to the airport's future. "There have been many successes and laudable accomplishments under John's seasoned leadership," he relates. "And I hope to continue that level of excellence in the years ahead."


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