The Indianapolis Midfield Airport is a prime example of how well joint ventures can work. And, as a post-9/11 airport project, security considerations abound for the contractors serving the project. When it is finished in 2008, the new construction, sandwiched between two parallel runways, will replace the original airport built in 1957.

ERMCO, Indianapolis, secured three separate packages with the giant addition and renovation—the Midfield Terminal, the parking garage and the concourse. With Sachs Electric of St. Louis, ERMCO will provide approximately $50 million worth of primary and secondary electrical services. There also are separate packages valued at about $8 million for infield lighting, security cabling, baggage handling and HVAC connections.

This was the first joint venture with Sachs, said ERMCO director of business development David Peterson. However, ERMCO has had a working relationship with Sachs dating back seven years as part of The Electrical Roundtable peer group of which they are both members. ERMCO worked with Sachs’ Rob Moeller and the Sachs estimating team on the airport proposals.

ERMCO anticipated the need for this joint venture as Indianapolis prepared for construction of the airport and a stadium within the coming years, along with several other major construction projects.

“It was strategic marketing for us,” Peterson said, adding that through the joint venture, the company was able to ensure it could bid on two large construction projects at the same time—and still deliver.

ERMCO specializes in design/build, industrial manufacturing, tenant fit outs, schools, biotech and convention centers. In 2007, it completed $68 million worth of electric installation.

“There’s a substantial amount of work out there,” Peterson said, estimating about 300 million in upcoming electrical and communications work within their key markets in central Indiana.

Joint venture partnerships

With the joint venture, ERMCO is providing local manpower, local site management and certain project management, and Sachs is providing executives and superintendents.

“It comes down to what you bring to the table,” Peterson said. “Partnering provides both companies with two pools of resources to draw upon and considerable backup, while allowing the two companies to share the risk,” said ERMCO’s James R. Tsareff, vice president, construction operations. 

“The hardest part about taking on a joint venture partner is choosing the right partner, and we feel we have done that with the partnership we have with Sachs Electric out of St. Louis. Each company brings something unique to the table,” Peterson said.

But that’s not the only important relationship to a project. Before the current airport projects began, ERMCO had an ongoing relationship with the owner’s representatives of the Midfield terminal. The company had provided infield lighting and duct bank work as well as telecom connections to the airport’s existing control tower during construction of the second tower. And, it has provided maintenance and tenant finish work at the airport for the past several years.

However, ERMCO was not the only company forming joint ventures. In fact, the overall management of the project, divided between two construction supervisors, included two other partnerships—Hunt-Smoot Construction for construction of the terminal and concourses, and Turner-Trotter for infrastructure and roadways, parking lots, utilities and rental car facilities. Altogether, the airport renovation had a $1.1 billion pricetag.

A post-9/11 terminal

Airport construction has changed since 9/11, and the new Midfield Terminal will be one of a kind, while keeping with today’s security requirements. The 1.2 million-square-foot, $413 million terminal, enclosed in glass, will include 96 ticketing positions, a circular civic plaza, baggage handling and security as well as 446,000 square feet of retail space. It includes a new FAA 300-foot-tall air traffic control tower (the third-tallest in the United States) and adjacent control building.

This is the second airport project for Matt Montgomery, project manager for Hunt-Smoot, but it is very different from the first because this one has unique security requirements. The project includes sophisticated in-line baggage screening as well as other TSA guidelines for security.

“It’s definitely challenging,” Montgomery said, “especially on the electrical side. With all the security, airports are always challenging electrically. When it comes to the baggage and passenger security and access control—airports can be quite unique.”

Security for the infrastructure meant controlling access points, creating proper distances between parked vehicles and buildings and adding control of vehicle arrival. The construction team also built a security infrastructure between the control tower and other elements of the airport.

“The airport has dedicated time, money and personnel to looking at this project from a security standpoint,” said Marc Bloomfield, Turner project executive. “It’s all an integrated approach, between security and service, to make the airport safe and user-friendly.”

Any airport project is unique due to the amount of complexity of the systems involved. “You’ve got baggage, flight arrival, but also fire response teams, control tower and associated systems all integrated,” Bloomfield said.

“Working around the existing airport has not been too big of a challenge today, but when the new airport opens, security issues will definitely impact the work,” Peterson said. ERMCO/Sachs was awarded the fire alarm and paging systems and ERMCO is working independently on the heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) system control. ERMCO is also responsible for electrical work involved with the baggage handling system.

When the project is complete, the airport will also include a digital video/closed-circuit television system interfaced with fire alarm and access control system for verification and response to alarms.

Size matters

Working on a construction of this size is ambitious enough, but the work is being done between two active runways. Positioning the terminal between runways is intended to reduce aircraft taxiing times, emissions and fuel consumption. The new divided concourse adds 40 more gates for narrow and wide-body aircraft.

“Because there are height restrictions and sightline restrictions, we have to work very closely with the FAA and with the control tower as we schedule and complete construction activities,” Montgomery said. “Airport facilities are very large in area, the sheer number of acres under construction is much larger than most construction sites.” In fact, the construction site encompasses an area one mile by two miles in size.

“With all that area,” Montgomery said, “access is still relatively limited. We can only bring in materials and men from the west and feed back out to the east.”

Traveling north or south would bring the construction crews directly onto the active runways. The west end was opened to a connecting roadway to Interstate 70. “That certainly provides a logistical challenge,” Bloomfield said.

Another logistical challenge was getting supplies to the site. Four suppliers—B and S Supply (MBE/DBE), First Electric Supply (MBE), Graybar Electric Co., and Wesco Manufacturing—all worked on the project, bringing the contractors the materials they needed.

The size of the site has created some additional requirements. A new Indianapolis Maintenance Center energy plant provides hot and chilled water to heat and cool the terminal and future hotel with 9,100 tons of chilling capacity. In addition, there will be two passenger security checkpoints with space for 22 screening lanes.

With more capacity for flights into and out of the terminal, the flight information display monitors, if combined into a single screen would be 18 feet tall and 43 feet wide according to Indianapolis Airport spokesman David Dawson. The gate podium displays could be combined into a screen that would be 11 feet tall and 31 feet wide, he said.

The airport will also include an integrated visual information display system, integrated voice paging system and an integrated energy monitoring and control system. The facility supports wireless equipment throughout the terminal area. Altogether, with all this expansion in electrical needs, the ERMCO/Sachs joint venture will have installed just over 1 million feet in conduit in the terminal and concourses and just over 4 million feet of wire and cables in the terminal and concourses.

Making it work

The Midfield Terminal project has so far been a success. “Communication is key to a successful joint venture,” Tsareff said. “We have all of our project managers in one office trailer. It’s a little cramped, but it makes the communication flow much better. We also have monthly and quarterly [joint venture] meetings to discuss job status, scheduling, safety and other key issues concerning the project.”

And there have been many issues. “Working at the airport has a unique challenge due to the complexity of the many separate packages and the coordination of the many parties involved,” Peterson said. With the help of the Hunt/Smoot Team and the Turner/Trotter team, he said, along with “the professionalism and cooperation of everyone from ERMCO, Sachs and our many subcontractors and vendors, we have been able to minimize the impact with working at the airport,” Peterson said. “Everyone has worked together to make an extremely difficult project seem easy.” EC

SWEDBERG is a freelance writer based in western Washington. She can be reached at claire_swedberg@msn.com.