- A large part of the initial challenge was updating the airport, correct?
Al Pramuk: The facility was dated and the coastal region was growing rapidly with the gaming industry. A lot of investment was being made in that arena, and the airport made a conscious effort to elevate the airport’s level of services and impression of the Mississippi coast. The gaming industry had saturated the market with all the drive-in traffic and they wanted to increase their air traffic to attract customers from other destinations and provide an alternative to Las Vegas.
The airport wanted to compete for upscale clientele and to start an entire terminal facility upgrade, not only for size and security measures, but to have a whole new image to appropriately represent the Mississippi coast. The economic development of the coast was the driving force behind the goal of upgrading the level of service and image of the facility.
At the time this was going on, the industry was going through a transition with trying to eliminate Explosive Trace Device tables out of the ticketing halls where the TSA was manually checking bags. We assisted the airport at meetings with TSA in Washington, DC, to present solutions for new in-line baggage screening equipment behind the ticket counters, which helped the airport gain funding as a pilot program for new technologies related to in-line baggage screening equipment.
Tim Hudson: he initial pilot program called for new Reduced-Size Explosive Detection Systems (RSEDS) baggage screening equipment be placed in the ticket lobby to screen all checked baggage. The added terminal depth through the renovations allowed for the ticket counters to be moved out, so the RSEDS equipment was placed behind the ticket counter back wall. This allowed for the airport to get back to the pre-9\11 levels of customer service, where all that was visible was the single conveyor taking baggage to awaiting aircraft as well as free up lost public circulation space occupied by baggage screening equipment.
- And then Hurricane Katrina came along.
Roddy Boggus: I joined this project shortly after the hurricane. The project was in the middle of construction, and it looked like it had been blown up. With the prevailing winds of a hurricane, you get winds for half the storm one way and you get winds for half the storm the other way, which is a good way to work things loose.
So it basically tore into one end of the terminal and blew a lot of rain and wind in through the terminal above the ceiling and into interstitial spaces. That required not only reconstruction of many elements that were already under construction but also some temporary rehabilitation of the existing terminal that was still in operation during construction.
Building on top of an existing operation is never, ever easy. Trying to move passengers, trying to run normal airline operations through a facility that fits under quite a bit of construction is difficult on the best of days. When the hurricane came and tore out the actual piece we were using in addition to the piece that we were building, it really put a damper on the usability of the terminal. It really complicated the process and set the schedule of the entire project back.
- How do you prioritize in that kind of situation?
Roddy: Well, I think the airport struggled mightily with that, along with the entire design and construction team. The airport’s great relationship with their Congressional delegation was key in how quickly they were able to recover because using that delegation, using that political power, they were able to help focus FEMA to look at what happened to the terminal and free up money.
There were conflicts in the entire area of the Gulf Coast, this airport included. The contractor that was working at this airport was being pulled in multiple directions to rebuild critical infrastructure projects. So their focus was shared with many, many different projects as well. But from my standpoint, the ability of the development team, the design team and construction team to come together with the airport and political figures to create a revised schedule was impressive.
Al: Another set of challenges had to do with funding and the management of funds on the initial terminal projects. When the hurricane hit, there was additional funding coming from FEMA. And that work was done on a time-and-materials basis at the same time that the other contract was ongoing.
So there were some challenges, and the airport asked us to get involved with having separate monitoring of activities related to the hurricane repairs, which included some of the existing construction underway, and what was being done under the original contract. It had to be controlled and recorded in a way that would be adequate for the FAA or the insurance companies if they were to do an audit. A large part of our scope was to help the airport understand the differences and monitor them.
- And some point, the client requested 10,000 more square feet of ticketing area.
Al: Yes. When we did the initial design, the airport was limited to the amount of funds and asked us to design a facility that could, in the future, be expandable. We set up the design so that in the future they could add an additional 50 feet on the end of the ticketing hall and provide more ticket counters if they had more airlines. When construction started, they successfully found some additional funding and asked us to extend the ticketing hall as an amendment to our contract.
- What is another example the expansion-friendly aspects built in to the design?
Al: In the main ticketing hall, we sized the structural and mechanical system, including elevator pits. We ran electrical conduit to those pits so that in the future the airport could choose to have a second-level covered pedestrian walkway from the parking deck over to the terminal. This should reduce the conflicts of pedestrians walking across the roadway where you have a lot of charter bus traffic and commercial traffic. So that was designed as a future consideration, and currently, the airport is asking us to start looking at a scope to go ahead with that design.
- Talk a little about the new curbside expansion.
Al: Well, the initial thinking, which we did not accept, was to put all buses off to the side by baggage claim. We changed the concept to minimize the number of people who have to walk across the street outside to get on a bus as well as minimize the distance they have to walk. There is a covered walkway to the bus, and the buses can go right to their destinations.
Then on the return there’s a different location for the drop off of passengers and their luggage, which is right over by the side of the terminal in ticketing. So you don’t have the issue of buses parked right out in front of the terminal unloading passengers. It keeps the passenger-vehicular conflicts to a minimum.
After the charter bus drops passengers off on the side of the building, the bus swings back around to the front and queues up for the people that are arriving. This minimizes the amount of passengers walking across in front of the terminal.
- What do you find the most gratifying, or the most significant, aspect of this project?
Roddy: When you walk in this space it feels open, it feels airy. You don’t feel caught up and crammed into a small space with a lot of your fellow passengers. It’s pretty evident where you go without a lot of signage to funnel you from the terminal entry up to the gates to get you where you need to be. When you go back and look at the facility they had, it was typical of aviation infrastructure in the U.S. A lot of it was really old, and prior to 9/11 they already had problems. After 9/11 and the advent of more security, facilities got even more constrained.
With Gulfport, Biloxi, and the whole Gulf Coast area growing the way it is, they had an opportunity and a political promise to put it together. When you look at the difference in the quality of the space, the way the space flows, the way the space feels when you walk through it, it’s night and day compared to the era of architecture and the design that they had previously.
More than anything else, this terminal gives them an open, flowing space that people find amazing. And I think there’s a lot of civic pride in the groups that operate around the Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport that they have a Class A facility for the people that live there, for the people that play and game there, and for the business people that come there.
Al: At the beginning, one of the master plan alternatives was to build a brand new terminal and to abandon this one. By the time you build a new terminal and an entire infrastructure, it could have been two times, and arguably almost three times the cost. I think our design solution was appropriate. It met the level of service and quality that was consistent with what the gaming industry was providing to customers.
Jane: The most successful part of the project is our continued relationship with the client. After the trials the whole team went through over the last seven years, the relationship is still strong and growing. We have another project under construction there now and another in the conceptual phase. The continued opportunity to work with this client, in my book, is the most gratifying aspect of the project.
Roddy: Another ongoing project is helping the airport put in new advanced imaging technology in the security checkpoints. We’re already putting in new equipment with new requirements, new power and data, so potentially we have to look at the modifications to that.
The airport expects to continue to grow, and we’re part of the master plan process to design the terminal. How do you expand it to accommodate international flights? How do you logically expand it to add new gates without tearing up what you’ve already done? Will we have larger aircraft gauges? Will we have smaller? Will it be a mix? How will the airport expand?
They’ve talked about bringing charters in from the U.K. where people will fly into Gulfport, do some gaming there and then fly down to Florida. Gulfport could potentially be the port of entry. That’s a pretty forward-thinking group of individuals there to make this type of thing happen.
Jane: And I think the client appreciates that the people on the project really care about the Gulfport-Biloxi area, including them personally.
Roddy: And that we were honest and candid with them, telling them what they needed to know or when we thought they were making an error in judgment. While at the end of the day they are our bosses, they look to us to help guide them along the way. And that’s a relationship you really want to have.