Since 1993, Salem, Ore., has held the distinction of being the only state capital in the country to operate without commercial airline service.
For the past 14 years, the city's airport, McNary Field, has effectively served as a glorified bus stop, offering Salem residents and travelers bus rides to and from the nearest functioning airport, Portland International, more than an hour away.
Given Salem's growing population, which now tops 150,000, city officials thought it was time to bring commercial airline service back to the capital. In 2005, Salem officials issued an RFP to airline carriers working in the Northwest. Several companies, including Delta Air Lines, expressed interest, but later balked after discovering the pitiful condition of the terminal facility at McNary Field.
The 4,700-sf facility was in no way fit to handle passenger traffic or accommodate airline operations. In the mid-1990s, the building was converted to offices for airport administration and operations space for bus service and car rental companies. Architecturally, the structure was rundown, and it lacked space to hold and screen passengers (and their luggage) under U.S. Transportation Security Administration regulations.
“Time was of the essence because the airlines wanted to see the facilities in place before they made a firm commitment,” says Paul W. Powers, AIA, NCARB, manager of aviation architecture with Mead & Hunt, Madison, Wis., design architect for the Salem airport project.
Powers says the terminal had to be quickly reconfigured, renovated, and expanded to nearly double in size to meet the needs of the air carriers and TSA operations—all within the $644,000 budget. “The risk was just too high for the city to put a lot of money into the project, so we had to come up with a low-cost, low-risk solution,” says Powers
Mead & Hunt's plan calls for the renovation of the existing terminal building and the construction of two modular structures—a 60x60-foot building that serves as a secured passenger holding room and a connecting structure between the existing terminal and the new holding room that accommodates TSA screening operations. A 240-sf addition to the existing terminal building will create much-need space for baggage handling as well as a winding entryway to the security checkpoint that will help with passenger overflow during peak travel hours.
“Our first thought was to add a stick-built structure to the existing terminal, but based on the limited time and budget, modular was the best option,” says Powers. “It saved us weeks of design work because we did not have to put together a full-blown set of construction documents. All we had to do was put together a scope specification with minimal design data, and the modular company was able to get started on the shop drawings.”
While the modular structures were going up in the factory, contractors were on the job site preparing the utilities and foundation work. Merging these critical paths shaved weeks off the total construction process. The modular portion of the project was built and installed in less than 12 weeks, about 25% faster than traditional timber-frame construction, according to Powers.
“Plus, knowing that the modular building could be re-used if the airline deal fell through helped city officials with the 'go, no-go' decision,” says Powers. “With stick-built, their decision-making process probably would have taken longer.”
If all goes as planned, Delta will commence service out of Salem Airport on June 7, offering two flights a day to Salt Lake City International Airport.