Terminal Rebirth

Kansas City International Airport's $258 million improvement program stays on track in spite of 9/11.
August 11, 2010

The 9/11 terrorist attacks had an immediate impact on Kansas City International Airport's $258 million terminal improvement program, which was just about to get off the ground as the horrifying events in New York City, rural Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C., unfolded.

Walton Construction Co., the last member selected for the KCI Building Team, received a notice to proceed with construction on August 6, 2001, barely a month before the terrorist attacks. "9/11 required a lot of rethinking, not just on our part, but by the Kansas City Aviation Department, the designers and the program manager," says Walton project manager Lee Turner. They considered shelving the project for a year, but ultimately the work was resumed after a six-day delay.

Coordination with other Building Team members — architect HNTB, interior architect CDFM2 (which merged with another Kansas City firm last summer to become 360 Architects), and program manager Burns & McDonnell — would have been challenging enough under normal circumstances. The uncertainties spawned by 9/11 only added to these difficulties.

"We had a teething period during which we got to know each other and figure out how we could make the project a success," Turner says.

Located 20 miles northwest of downtown, the 10,000-acre airport opened in 1973. It was designed by Kivett & Meyers, a firm subsequently acquired by HNTB that became the core of HNTB's architectural practice.

KCI serves 12 airlines — 17 when related operations of major carriers are included. Southwest Airlines, with a 34% market share, has the largest presence. The airport recorded about 142,000 takeoffs and landings from January through November of this year. Last year it was the country's 40th busiest airport.

The original terminal improvement plan called for larger security areas than previously existed, but these fell short of standards enacted after 9/11. The size of security checkpoints was expanded by 40–50%, largely to accommodate new screening equipment mandated by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

Other security-related features were also incorporated into the plans. To decrease the likelihood that items could be tossed into secured areas, 12-foot-high blast-resistant glass panels replaced the eight-foot-high standard glass panels that separated passenger hold rooms from the concourse — a far cry from the wood rail that originally separated the corridor and the passenger lounges. Blast-resistant glass and framing were installed along the landside and airside elevations. Open stairways to the mezzanine level were enclosed with partially glazed walls.

Terminals A, B, and C are structurally identical and have few interior variations. But rather than a typical linear plan, they have a horseshoe shape. This allowed the distance between curbside drop-off points and aircraft gates to be as short as 75 feet, which made convenience a hallmark of KCI. "There was no security screening of any kind in those days," says William Mitchell, HNTB's project manager. "You literally could walk into the terminal and right onto an airplane."

Squeeze play

The downside of this plan was that the terminals were only 65 feet wide. This led to the enlargement of passenger hold rooms by means of "bumpouts" that project 10 or 15 feet beyond the original exterior walls on both landside and airside elevations. Landside extensions now align with the projections for restrooms.

The project increased the area of the terminals by 63,000 sf, with about half of that total consisting of hold room expansions.

Design revisions, most of which were not directly related to security issues, increased the scope of the project by 30%, the bulk of it (about $22 million worth) going to expand the passenger hold rooms. "Everyone understood that there would be changes throughout the project," Turner says. The largest expansion was for Southwest Airlines, which now occupies two-thirds of Terminal B.

The possibility of restricting entrances only to ticketing lobbies and locating security checkpoints just inside them was studied. The atypical nature of the KCI terminal design weighed heavily in the decision against this approach, and none of the original entrances was closed. Because the terminals are single-level structures, arrivals and departures are not separated. Planners decided that reducing the number of entry points would create unacceptable traffic jams. This plan also enables KCI to keep the distance from the curb to the nearest aircraft gate to less than 100 feet.

"The terminals were essentially stripped down to their original concrete structure and rebuilt from scratch," Turner says. The entire interior was sandblasted before other work began, leaving little of the original finishes. All MEP, HVAC, and baggage handling systems were replaced, and electrical systems were upgraded. Walton received one of 13 prime packages, at a contract price of $136 million.

Asbestos abatement was a $7.4 million item; even though the terminals had previously undergone abatement, demolition exposed considerably more of the material. "When you take down a 10-foot-wide duct, you find a lot of surface that wasn't previously exposed," says Phillip Muncy, KCI's assistant director for planning and engineering.

Momentum maintained

The project was organized into 12 phases. Operations of an individual airline typically would be temporarily relocated from its original space to an interim area and moved back when the improvements were completed. These relocations were performed overnight, without interrupting the following day's operations. This work included the construction and dismantling of temporary separation walls. Of course, it was necessary to make sure that a temporarily relocated airline had all the services required to maintain operations.

Careful phasing of the project was essential to prevent disruption of airline operations. "The design wasn't driven by the phasing, but you might say the design was refined to accommodate it," Mitchell says.

"There were a lot of logistics to deal with, plus the curve balls that resulted from airline acquisitions and bankruptcies," says Kansas City Aviation Department spokesman Joe McBride.

The airport used a fast-track delivery schedule under which basic contracts were bid initially and the hold room expansions were treated as change orders. This gave airport officials time to negotiate with the airlines to discover which ones wanted expansions — and were willing to pay the additional rental costs they would entail.

"The real gut check for us was to keep the program going after 9/11," says Muncy. "The funding was in place. The purpose of the project was to renovate a 30-year-old building. Even after 9/11, it was still a 30-year-old building."

Project uncertainties were compounded by a lack of security directives from the Federal government. These ultimately came from TSA, which was created in November 2001.

The interior of the terminals is now lighter. Dark finishes are gone. The brown-tinted clerestory glass has been replaced with clear glass. "It's just a brighter place than it used to be, which was one of our original goals," says Mitchell. Wendy Hageman, project coordinator with interior architect CDFM2, says the neutral color palette incorporates golds, greens, and a touch of blue.

A distinctive original feature, a wood parquet concourse floor, was replaced with a blue terrazzo floor funded by the 1% of construction cost the city requires for public projects. "Many people perceived the parquet floor as emblematic of the airport," Mitchell says. But it didn't wear well, and became a maintenance problem. "Some of the planks were almost paper-thin, because they had been stripped so many times," says Hageman.

Terminal improvements include new passenger loading bridges. The jetways, once owned by the airlines, are now owned and leased by the airport. The new arrangement gives the airport control over what was generally perceived to be an airport responsibility.

Upgraded communications capabilities include an "information backbone" into which individual airlines can tap. It provides digital time readouts for consolidated flight information display monitors. This may end complaints about a shortage of clocks in the terminals.

All airlines can plug into the new backbone, which makes it unnecessary for them to interconnect their own computers at ticket counters, gates, and back-of-house operations. This network supports a multiple-user display system that provides a common format for exchanging flight information. "We want to help airlines save money so they can make money," McBride adds.

Mezzanines, originally intended for use by concessionaires and airline club lounges, had been largely turned over to office space. A mezzanine in Terminal B, adjacent to Southwest's gates, now houses a conventional restaurant on the first level and two fast-food outlets on the second. New escalators extend into the corridor, giving the mezzanine a more dramatic visual presence.

A visual improvement was provided by the elimination of a continuous backlighted "sign band" that displayed wayfinding information and also housed horizontal runs of HVAC ducts. As a result, persons entering a terminal no longer initially encounter a space only 8 feet high, but are immediately exposed to the terminal's full height. The value of the signage band was reduced when it became necessary to install walls that separate screened areas and unscreened areas.

The airport recently announced that restrooms will be constructed in passenger waiting areas. Because of the terminals' unusual configuration, it was necessary for passengers in the hold rooms to exit to the non-secure section in order to reach toilet rooms, and then to be reprocessed back into the hold room. This was not a significant problem before 9/11, but since then has resulted in waits of as long as six minutes to be rescreened.

Security requirements for on-site contractors were tightened after 9/11. At the start of the project, they consisted essentially of requiring supervisors and project managers to obtain badges that allowed them to move within the terminal area and holding them responsible for those under their direction. After 9/11, security was based on Homeland Security alert levels in effect at a particular time, and all contractor employees were required to pass through a security checkpoint. As many as 400 construction workers were on site at a time. And they were bussed in from a staging area four miles away.

Just misses the deadline

"This project was a significant achievement for everyone involved," Turner says. "It had a rocky start." Due to the schedule impacts of 9/11 and the extensions, at one point it appeared that the project would not be completed until March 2005. "But on the day we moved onto the site, our goal was to finish by the end of October," Turner adds. "We were only four days late."

Construction Costs

Asbestos abatement $7,380,902
Airport mezzanine operations 525,765
Passenger boarding bridges 23,106,349
Pre-construction 5,160,277
Temporary walkways 1,686,686
Demolition 1,746,888
Airline relocations 1,180,000
Air-handling units 1,752,422
Baggage handling equipment 10,361,003
Multiple-user flight information display system 6,718,326
Seating 3,347,959
Roof replacement 4,643,996
General contractor package 136,846,453
Temporary mobile offices 1,100,000
Temporary signage 380,625
Communications backbone 1,537,000
Total $207,474,640