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Setting the bar for port-of-entry design

Whenever you eat a tomato from Mexico, there’s a one-in-three chance it came through this LEED Gold gateway.

April 09, 2015 |
Setting the bar for port-of-entry design

An oasis welcomes citizens and visitors to the U.S. at the Mariposa Land Port of Entry, Nogales, Ariz. Photos: Bill Timmerman/Timmerman Photography, Inc.

Four billion pounds of fresh produce flow through the Mariposa Land Port of Entry, Nogales, Ariz., from Mexico every year. More than 300,000 trucks, nearly three million cars, and more than three million people enter the U.S. via this import-export gateway, which accounts for $30–35 billion a year in commerce.

The new $187 million port, designed by Jones Studio, Phoenix, for the U.S. General Services Administration, has more than doubled the capacity of the facility it replaced. The 55-acre site now has 14 processing lanes for cars, buses, and RVs; the old port had four. According to Paul Andrade, AIA, Project Executive for GSA Design & Construction Region 9, the 216,000-sf facility “will likely serve as a template for future port designs.” 

The Building Team not only kept the port fully operational during nearly four years of construction, it shifted commercial processing facilities into earlier phases of the project; this enabled the primary tenant, Customs and Border Protection (CBP), to double commercial capacity three years ahead of project completion. The team further improved CBP’s efficiency by segregating the general public from commercial inspection operations. 

Mariposa Land Port of Entry
Nogales, Ariz.

Submitting firm: Jones Studio, Inc. (architect)
Owner: U.S. General Services Administration
Structural: Bakkum Noelke Consulting Structural Engineers
Mechanical/plumbing: Associated Mechanical Engineers, PLLC
Electrical: Woodward Engineering, Inc.
GC: Hensel Phelps Construction Co.
CM: Heery International

Project size: 216,000 gsf
Construction cost: $187 million ($173.7 million from ARRA funds)
Construction period: October 2010 to August 2014
Delivery method: Design-bid-build

To speed up the construction schedule, the Building Team came up with a new way to pour slabs up against concrete tilt-up panels. The traditional way usually requires two pours; the team found a way to do it in one step.

The team redesigned the truck dock to increase capacity. In the old port, three dock spaces were needed to offload and reload a full semi-trailer. The team designed a deeper dock to allow for the entire contents of the trailer to be unloaded directly behind the vehicle. 

In the midst of production, Homeland Security mandated a pilot program for traffic returning to Mexico. The team went into design-build mode and produced $10 million worth of work in less than a year to keep the original contract scope on schedule.

Other hallmarks of the project:
•  97% diversion of construction waste from landfill by contractor Hensel Phelps.
•  58% of subcontracts awarded to small business enterprises.
•  32% participation by women-owned businesses, vs. a baseline goal of 5%.
•  LEED-NC (2.2) Gold. A million-gallon tank stores enough rainwater from the short rainy season to irrigate the landscape throughout the dry season.

The Mariposa POE now represents “the showcase design for southern border ports of entry,” says Tom Yearout, retired Deputy Director of CBP’s Tucson Field Office.


Vehicles await entry to the U.S. A Building Team led by designer Jones Studio and GC Hensel Phelps worked with Customs and Border Protection on an improved trench design that will provide easy access to service, modify, and replace high-tech scanning and processing equipment. The design has been recognized as a CBP Best Practice.

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