Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport

Now embarking on the most significant modernization project in its more than 80-year history, the Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport is not only placing itself in a position to meet the ever-changing demands of passengers, but also to improve security throughout the facility. The $201.6 million modernization project is intended to not only increase passenger convenience and efficiency, but also encourage airlines to add new, non-stop flights.

The project is expected to significantly increase the efficiency of the passenger experience by expanding the airport from two to three concourses, while also adding a centralized security checkpoint area. The third concourse will also feature a federal inspection station, notes Al Denson, president and CEO of Birmingham Airport Authority.

“This complete modernization project will make the experience very convenient for the traveler,” Denson explains.

“There will also be major upgrades of some of the elements behind the curtain that the traveler will not see, but will help create a seamless check-in process.”

The airport will remain operational throughout construction, which is slated to be completed by 2014. Early construction work includes the demolition of the airport’s cargo building, along with Terminal A, used presently as administrative space only.

Practical Planning

Although the project is in its early stages of construction, the renovation is progressing well thanks to the commitment and coordination of the stakeholders. “The airlines have been engaged in the project from the very beginning,” Denson says. “We bring them to the table, and have allowed them input on the process as a whole.”

However, remaining fully operational in the midst of a large-scale construction project has not been easy. But, with strict guidelines and carefully planned phasing, the project remains on schedule.

“When you take a phased approach to a project of this size, there are countless issues to coordinate with all stakeholders,” Denson says. “The most important part of all is to communicate on a very regular basis. It’s important for all stakeholders to be a part of the process from the very beginning.”

The project team consists of a construction management joint venture between Brasfield  & Gorrie and BLOC Global Services Group. KPS Group and its associate, KHAFRA, lead the architecture and engineering team, while project management is led by a partnership between A.G. Gaston Construction and Saber Construction.

Sustainable Future

With a number of sustainable features already in the works, the project is seeking LEED Silver certification. Green features include the use of extensive natural sunlight, as well as energy-efficient LED lights and sensors to control the use of artificial lighting. Rainwater from the roof will be harvested for non-potable uses.  Solar panels will be used to heat the water in restrooms.

Because the airport is located on a major flood plain, harvesting rainwater and controlling runoff have important implications for the community at large. “The roof of the building is about 6.5 acres and about 3.5 acres of previously impervious paving have been returned to a pervious surface, removing a significant amount of runoff from the construction site – a real benefit to downstream neighbors,” says Gray Plosser, project principal for architecture firm KPS Group.

In addition, landscaping will include drought-tolerant plants with irrigation limited to drip systems in select areas, according to the airport authority. Highly efficient, sensor-operated plumbing fixtures will also be incorporated in the terminal to reduce water consumption.

The Birmingham Airport Authority anticipates the facility will save upwards of 40 percent in terms of water cost as a result of these sustainable features. The project will also use recycled materials whenever possible.

Passengers will be rewarded for using fuel-efficient vehicles and alternate transportation in an effort to reduce pollution, congestion and fossil fuel use. Preferred parking will be given to passengers and employees who carpool or drive energy-efficient cars. The authority is also working to place bus stops at or near the airport.

Economic Impact

The Birmingham Airport Authority is committed to contributing to the local community as much as possible. Denson is confident that the project alone will have a significant impact on the local economy in Birmingham.

“We expect this project to have a very positive economic impact, and we’re looking into specific numbers to reflect this impact,” Denson says. “We’ve had a lot of local participation and we’re very excited about the long-term benefit this expansion will have, as well."

Productive Planning

Although the construction team employed few unique construction methods on the project, the complexity involved in the renovation comes primarily through the extensive planning and coordination required. “There may not be many new or technically innovative elements in the construction of the project, but much of the design and sustainable elements of the job require a very innovative approach,” says Chris Kramer, regional vice president of Brasfield & Gorrie.

Brasfield & Gorrie’s extensive experience working on large-scale projects has served the team well. The construction and design teams have worked closely together developing building information modeling to use in future planning.

“We’ve had a lot of success with large-scale renovation projects such as this, so we know how important it is to work well together,” Kramer says. “These models help us reduce errors and ultimately lead to efficiencies for us and also for the owner in the long-term.

“This is a challenging project that takes a lot of coordination, but the airport staff and leadership have done a great job on developing a project team that works very well together.”

Plosser agrees that communication has been integral throughout the design and planning phases. “Like similar projects of this size, there are many stakeholders involved,” he says. “It’s not only the airport authority, but it’s also their multiple tenants and numerous governmental agencies that we need to consider. A renovation project like this requires their active involvement and collaboration.”

Communication among all disciplines involved is a constant battle, as airlines move locations on a fairly regular basis. “The communication aspect of the project has been a huge undertaking,” he notes.

Walter Howlett, program manager of project management firm A.G. Gaston Construction, has been tasked with facilitating the project and overseeing communication and project progress. “In addition to the stakeholders themselves, it’s important to consider the passengers,” he says. “This project also has the potential to play a very important role in the community at large. We feel we’ve done an excellent job keeping everyone informed of the project’s progress.”

The project team employs a “hub and spoke” communication model throughout the job to ensure all necessary parties are well-informed. “Everyone involved in the project has some sort of a hub and spoke network, and it becomes a complex web that connects us all,” says Herschell Hamilton, CEO of BLOC Global.

Employing a specific communication model is imperative to the success of the project, due to the large scope of the job. “Many airports complete renovation projects, but very few remodel to this extent,” Plosser says. “We’re not only demolishing an existing terminal, but we’re also building a new one and completely renovating the remaining terminal. Very few airports throughout the country undertake a 100 percent turnover of their facilities.”

Although Plosser admits many airports look alike and offer similar features and amenities, the Birmingham-Shuttlesworth airport facility boasts several unique design features that contribute to the passenger experience. “The airport authority has always been highly conscious of passenger convenience,” he says. “That encompasses the entire experience, from getting to the airport and from the car to the gate. We try to make the experience as simple and convenient as possible.”

The airport authority has also developed an art program featuring the work of local artists as well as local cultural institutions under the theme “Gateway to Alabama.” “Together the airport hopes these efforts will reflect the unique aspects of its location in central Alabama,” Plosser adds.

Safety Partnerships

Safety of both employees and the public is at the forefront of the project. Regular meetings dedicated solely to safety issues help reinforce the importance of operating safely and effectively. “Safety is a critical part of any of our projects,” Kramer notes.

Members of the construction management team are OSHA 30-hour trained, and participate in daily job site safety assessments. “Any time the forecast changes during the day, we analyze the task to make sure our crews know what’s going on and are able to execute the job safely,” Kramer says. “These regular meetings are really the key to any successful program.”

The team anticipates smooth sailing as the project continues to progress, and attributes this success to a strong commitment to partnership and collaboration by all involved.

“What’s especially unique about this project is the amount of partnering, training and opportunity that has been afforded to everyone in the context of this very important capital project,” Kramer says. “The airport authority and also the project team as a whole deserves credit for the success of the project overall.”

Brasfield & Gorrie’s partners include P&M Mechanical, Spec 9 Contract Flooring LLC, Ready Mix USA and Justco Services Inc.

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