First-class effort

Edmonton's airport expansion project gives project team and passengers plenty of reasons to smile

After just four years, the Edmonton International Airport terminal-expansion project is virtually complete, coming in ahead of schedule and under budget. Fast-tracked in order to reduce the impact on passengers, it led to some challenges that PCL Construction Management Inc. doesn't face every day.

"Our primary role is to not interfere with the passenger experience," says Paul Hobern, project manager, PCL. "We should almost be doing our work without being seen or heard so we don't interrupt anything."

Hiding a construction crew of up to 500 isn't easy. Establishing complete phasing plans for changes to passenger flow, suspending work on higher-risk scopes during heavy-traffic periods such as Christmas and spring break, and working closely with the airport to coordinate construction needs with the needs of airport operations helped to ensure that passengers were affected as little as possible. Signage and information on the expansion was also used throughout the airport.

Security was another major issue. Everyone on site had to go through a safety and security orientation before starting work on the project. Because of stricter requirements for work done "airside"-where there are passengers or operations-some areas were made "groundside" by fencing them off from the airside operations. This allowed work to continue without security passes or the need for a guard. Airside work was sometimes conducted during off hours so that additional security clearances were not required.

The new terminal is about 50 per cent or 463,000 square feet (43,000 square metres) bigger than the old one and includes nine new aircraft bridges (the enclosed connectors that take you from gate to plane), bringing the total number of bridges to 26. It will be able to accommodate around 10 million passengers, giving Edmonton International Airport, which currently serves around 6.5 million passengers, room to grow.


The facility is designed to give passengers a better travel experience and includes moving walkways, 34 new stores and places to eat, and a large art program that features local, national and international artisans. The new U.S. Customs and Border Protection area is almost four times as large as the old one.

Interestingly, the airport took a bit of a backwards approach to designing the facility.

"Traditionally, airport terminals are designed around airplanes in mind first and then you figure out where you can put concession space and consider the passenger amenities after," says Myron Keehn, vice-president, commercial development for Edmonton Regional Airports Authority (Edmonton Airports). "We designed the commercial amenity opportunities first and designed the gate around that, keeping the passengers in mind throughout the process."

The goal was to give passengers plenty to do while waiting for flights.

The terminal was built to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design-certified standards and includes a number of sustainability features. One of the most noticeable is a two-story "living wall" that can be seen by passengers on both the arrival and departure levels of the expanded terminal. Said to be the first living wall in an airport in North America, it contributes to air quality and has other benefits as well.

"That area is an ode to the river valley," Keehn says. "The wall takes your experience to and from Edmonton from OK to quite dramatic."

Less noticeable sustainability features are two solar farms for preheating water and a 1.65-million-litre grey-water cistern under the building.

The project earned an innovation credit for 95 per cent waste diversion, largely because the demolished apron was crushed up and reused in other apron work and to build roads. Regional materials were chosen as were durable materials, and half of the wood used was supplied by a source that promotes responsible forestry practices. A bike shed for employees earned the project an alternate transportation credit.

Tenants are also contributing to the sustainability of the building. Starbucks Corporation, for example, is using furniture made of recycled material, countertops from another business and reclaimed wood.

Because the project was fast-tracked, PCL worked closely with the owner and the design team to provide value engineering throughout the entire project.

"We opened it up to all of the design team, the client and the trades to come back with alternatives so we were able to offer the same intent with a lesser price," Hobern says.


The economic downturn presented some significant opportunities to save money. For instance, the original concrete superstructure was replaced with a metal superstructure to take advantage of dropping metal prices.

As a result of such substitutions, the project price, forecasted to be about $1.1 billion, ended up totalling around $670 million.

This project includes groundwork for future expansions. The master plan outlines what will be done as passenger levels increase, up to 25 million passengers. With the plan in hand, Edmonton Airports was able to put things in place that will allow it to avoid issues that cropped up in this project and cost-effectively prepare for the future.

For instance, in the terminal expansion, a temporary structure had to be built to divert passengers away from the construction area so that five bridges on the south end of the original facility could be removed to make way for the new.

Says Paul Garbiar, vice-president, infrastructure and technology, Edmonton Airports: "At one end of the new facility, where we know we'll eventually expand for U.S. travel, we've left two bridges off and graded the apron. This pre-work is done to ensure that when we are ready to further expand, we are ready. We won't have to go back and rip up all the apron that we laid with this expansion."

Work has also been done that will allow the airport to create new flow paths, like taking passengers off international flights and straight into U.S. departures, should those opportunities receive regulatory approval in the future.

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