HuntAustin, a Joint Venture – Terminal 3 Modernization


(Photo credit: City of Phoenix Aviation Department)

Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport has stayed operational during its terminal modernization.

By Alan Dorich

It can be difficult to build a project in an area that people walk through every day, and it’s even harder when it is an airport. But HuntAustin, a Joint Venture, is up to the challenge as it builds the Terminal 3 modernization at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.

Ward Helm, special projects administrator for the City of Phoenix Aviation Department, notes that the airport currently operates out of three terminals. “We ran into a situation where we were looking at overall automating costs in Terminal 2,” he recalls.HuntAustin info box

When the airport did not find enough incentive to make the changes to the terminal, it looked at Terminal 3, which is one of the destination points of the PHX Sky Train. “Ultimately, in that plan, we recognized that we needed to upgrade and modernize Terminal 3 to more modern standards and efficiency,” he says. Terminal 2 will be closed when the $590 million project is finished.

Critical Components

Ray Libonati, a project executive for HuntAustin, says the Terminal 3 project consists of three components. The first is a renovation to the 340,000-square-foot terminal processor, which will include the creation of a new security checkpoint, overhauled HVAC systems, vertical circulation systems and new finishes in the interior and exterior.

The second component consists of the demolition of the current south concourse and the construction of a new, 268,000-square-foot concourse with 15 gates. HuntAustin also will build new food and retail concessions spaces, large airline hold rooms and customer amenities.

“Component three is a renovation to the existing north concourse,” Libonati says. The finished concourse will span 153,000 square feet and include new food and beverage concessions, more customer amenities, and new interior and exterior finishes.

The terminal, Helm notes, has needed the changes for a long time. “What we wanted from this project was an upgrade of all of our systems,” he says, noting that the terminal’s current ones were out of date. “[We’re getting] new systems that make us more efficient.”

The project also will increase the terminal’s hold room space. “One of the problems we have is accommodating passengers and giving them space,” he says. “We also wanted to change the environment of concessions and retail. There’s a lot more now that are showing up in these terminals.”

Changes in the terminal also will include a single checkpoint that allows travelers to go to both concourses. Previously, they walked through checkpoints that only allowed them to enter one. After the project is finished, “They will have all those amenities at their disposal,” Helm says.

Opening Up

Construction started on the Terminal 3 modernization in 2014 and will be finished in 2020. “We started component one and split that into phases,” Libonati says, noting that this helps the terminal remain operational as HuntAustin builds.

Both companies are aiming for LEED Silver certification on Terminal 3, Libonati says. The project team is aiming to achieve that through a more energy-efficient HVAC system, lighting control and daylighting. “We’ve also been able to recycle a large component of the existing facility,” he says.

The new construction also will make distinct changes to the terminal’s structures. “One of the things that you find out here at Sky Harbor is what we tended to have a lot of concrete construction with low ceilings,” Helm says. “Terminal 3 wasn’t built to be as open to see the views.

“One of the proposals was to tear out the old precast system we had on the exterior and open up the project to all the views we have here,” he says. “When you drive up, you can see through the building, because it’s all glass.

“You can see the ticketing from the curbside, and now sunlight able is come into the building,” Helm says. “Hopefully, that decompresses our passengers and gets them more comfortable much quicker.”

Steady Operations

The largest challenge on the project, Helm notes, has been completing work in the terminal while it remains in operation. For example, as HuntAustin removed floors from the building, it had to leave “other floors in place below them,” he recalls.

“Keeping the operations going during the demo on this job has been a great engineering feat,” he says. “They stripped this building down to the concrete columns and the concrete floors.”

The project team also removed the rooftop and a mezzanine level. “We also took out certain portions of the upper floors to put in escalators,” he recalls. “It’s one thing to remove a floor inside a building, but it’s another when you’ve got all kind of systems through that area.”

This has been managed through teamwork between the contractors and the operations group at the airport, Helm states. “All the people have to agree on how you’re going about this, from the beginning of the project,” he says.

But more cooperation will be required as the project moves forward. When work on the south concourse begins, both groups will have to work closely with the airlines and the facility staff. “You can’t do anything that you’re just doing on your own schedule,” he says.

The environment also requires problems to be solved quickly. For example, if the project team were to find a water leak, “We’ve got to get that fixed in minutes and not hours,” he says.

Project Priorities

HuntAustin has kept safe on the Terminal 3 project, which is critical with its location. “In an airport, you have a lot of folks that are out of their element,” Helm says.

“We’re constantly making sure that passengers don’t make their way into the construction site,” he says. “When you’ve got cranes operating in the building, safety becomes No. 1.”

Another important priority was finding the right subcontractors, Libonati says. This required HuntAustin to utilize a rigorous selection process.

“We put this in a prequalified process,” Libonati continues. “We wanted to get qualified subcontractors from some of the key trades.”

Helm agrees. “You have to have a certain level of competence to be able to work out here at the airport,” he says. “It limits the amount of subs that are in that environment. There’s a balancing act that has to happen with the cost of building something and the understanding you [need] to work in this environment.”

Lessons Learned

HuntAustin is a joint venture between Hunt, An AECOM Company and Austin Commercial. Although the companies had not previously worked together before, both had previously worked at the airport. The partnership is “going well now” for both companies, Libonati says.

Helm adds that the Terminal 3 project has been a learning experience for all. “When we went into it, we knew it was going to be a challenging project,” he recalls, noting that there were some hurdles that the participants did not anticipate.

However, “If everybody is informed and understand what to expect, they can deal with a little minor change,” he says. “If people aren’t being kept abreast, it’s hard to react to those things. You cannot over-communicate on a project like this.”

Helm predicts more projects will be ahead at the airport. “Given the growth here in Phoenix, there’s continual construction that’s [going to be] happening out here at this airport,” he says. 

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