Sky's the Limit

The good news in the 1990s at Oklahoma City’s Will Rogers World Airport was commercial air traffic was booming. The bad news was the capacity of every function was challenged in the 1960s-era terminal’s twin concourses—especially during peak business hours.

Overall traffic was growing consistently every year. In addition, the airport was seeing parking and vehicle traffic congestion, long lines at ticket counters, standing room only in departure lounges and long waits at baggage claims. Tenants of the terminal wanted bigger and better facilities, too; the airlines needed a more modern baggage-handling system while retail shops lobbied for better locations.

Special funding

But just as important to the overcrowding and aging facilities issues, the air gateway to the city just needed a new face. In 1993, Oklahoma City began a publicly funded, city-wide capital improvement program called Metropolitan Area Projects (MAPS) for new and upgraded sports, recreation, entertainment, cultural and convention facilities. In keeping with MAPS, travelers to Oklahoma City needed to see a friendlier, more impressive welcome at the airport—in other words, a terminal building that could greet visitors appropriately and better reflect what Oklahoma and its capital city were becoming.

In response to the need, the Oklahoma City Airport Trust commissioned a study in 1997 by Landrum & Brown, an established and respected international airport consulting firm. Its 1998 report included an option for a three-phase new construction and renovation plan that seemed to best fit the airport’s needs. The two initial phases would add a new attached concourse to the existing arc-shaped terminal; demolish the old concourses to the south of the existing terminal; and expand, renovate and add gates to the remaining usable portions of the existing terminal. Phase III would be undertaken when passenger traffic and airline needs exceeded the capacity of Phase II; it called for a second new concourse to the east, with additional gates and expanded retail, restaurant and baggage areas.

The Airport Trust hired the Benham Cos. of Oklahoma City as the architect/engineer to design the new terminal, plan the course of events and provide construction oversight throughout the project. In keeping with the master plan, Benham’s design included a new west concourse, extended the existing original terminal by 30 feet to the north and 60 to the south and provided a total of 17 gates. It also expanded the baggage claim, restaurant, bar and retail space.

The expansion increased the overall size of the airport by about 283,000 square feet, or about 71 percent. It called for 79,000 blocks of native stone, plate glass and brushed metal, creating a new terminal with 53-foot loft ceilings that would have a more open feel, similar to that of large hub airports, but without being as grand in scale.

Sudden change

With the architectural plans in place, the Airport Trust selected Oscar J. Boldt Construction as the general contractor and broke ground on the construction project in early 2001, unaware that shortly, the United States would suffer the worst airline disaster in history. Following Sept. 11, 2001, air traffic plummeted, there was a drastic revolution in airport security requirements, and revenues dropped at every U.S. airport, including Will Rogers.

Having just gotten started, the Airport Trust was forced to halt the project and reconsider its $110-million expansion. After a month, the trustees chose to put it back on track. The optimistic gamble has paid off; by the end of 2006, enplanements and deplanements at Will Rogers were at an all-time high, and air service has expanded to offer more nonstop destinations from Oklahoma City than ever before.

The decision to proceed with the project was good news for the people of Oklahoma City. Another winner was the Oklahoma City-based electrical contractor Dane & Associates Electric Co., which had bid on and won the electrical portion of this massive five-year-plus project.

Since the 1980s, owner Mike Ridgell has led his company to winning multiple Will Rogers World Airport projects, such as a previous expansion of the terminal and a previous total renovation of the former concourse and airline gates. Before purchasing the company in 1975 from founder Bill Dane (who started it in 1961), Ridgell had worked for Dane for 12 years as a lineman and, briefly, as an estimator.

“This was a really special project for us,” Ridgell said about the Will Rogers World Airport. “We’ve worked there on a lot of projects over the years, and we have a good working relationship with both the airport and Boldt Construction.”

Kendall Hartman, Dane’s project manager/estimator on the airport project said, “The new concourse was the biggest portion of the work, but it also went the fastest because it was all new construction.”

Leonard Lebow RCDD was Dane’s senior project manager at the airport and responsible for quality assurance/quality control.

When the new concourse was completed, the slow work began of relocating airlines from the existing concourses to their new locations with no interruption of service. One at a time, each was painstakingly moved, with little room for error.

“Of course, it would have gone a lot faster if we could have shut down the entire old terminal while we worked,” Hartman said, “but it remained a working airport that never closed the entire time.”

Once the two original concourses were vacated, they were demolished. The original terminal was renovated and expanded with new gates added. The relocation process was repeated as car rental companies, other vendors, security stations, baggage claim areas and everything else was renovated or relocated.

The high security demands of a modern airport also played a part in slowing down the work. Oklahoma City knows first-hand the suffering that comes from a terrorist attack.

“A lot of our work was in secured areas behind closed gates. We worked closely with the FBI and the TSA in getting security clearances and following security procedures. And all of that brought delays,” Hartman said.

By the end of the project, Hartman and his crews had installed or renovated 12,000 amps of power for the airport—8,000 amps entering from one end and 4,000 from the other. Workers installed new utility transformers at each end, each with a main switchboard and an emergency generator, with paralleling switchgear for the generators. They installed roughly 2 million feet of electrical cable and between 350,000 and 400,000 feet of electrical raceway.

Low-voltage systems

The electrical package for the Will Rogers World Airport also included several low-voltage portions, which Dane & Associates performed in-house.

“One of the big challenges was that we were dealing with dozens of independent cable networks,” said Bruce Conley, Dane’s communications manager. The main airport has its own local area network (LAN), complete with one main distribution frame (MDF) and five intermediate distribution frames (IDFs), each with multiple fiber optic and copper backbones. In addition to that, each airline, car rental outlet, government and security agency, the airport office complex and many of the retail vendors has its own independent LAN.

In total, Conley and the Dane communications team installed 36 separate LANs, each with its own MDF and topology. In addition, they all were connected to the airport’s MDF with individual fiber optic and copper backbones (as long as 2,500 feet) for demarcation access and interconnection with the main airport flight, security and other relevant information.

By the end of the project, Dane had installed about 750,000 feet of Category 5e plenum-rated unshielded twisted pair structured cable in about 4,000 feet of cable tray plus other ceiling supports—all to install 3,500 computer and telephone terminations. The crew had relocated and/or reassigned about 1,000 phone numbers and circuits.

“In all of that, I think that we dropped just one phone number in all of the cutovers that we did,” Conley said.

His crew also relocated all of the airlines’ 30 UHF/VHF radio communications antennas with Heliax cables that provide air-to-ground and ground-to-ground communications from the old concourses to one of two rooftop antenna farms. Dane also installed the raceways for the paging system, and both raceways and cabling for the closed-circuit television surveillance (CCTV) video. Similarly, it installed raceways, cabling and devices for the access control and fire alarm systems, and it subcontracted out the programming of those two systems.

In the future

Even though Phase II of the Will Rogers World Airport renovation project was officially completed in November 2006, Dane & Associates has been active there in recent months, and it intends to spend more time there in the future. Dane already has installed 60-foot lighting standards for the airport ramps, plus completed the electrical work on a temporary 1,500-car parking lot and a jet fuel storage facility. In early 2007, it won the electrical contract for a new five-story parking facility that will increase capacity by 40 percent. Clearly, neither Dane & Associates nor Will Rogers World Airport are going anywhere—except forward together.    ¦

MUNYAN is a freelance writer in the Kansas City, Kan. area, specializing in business writing and telecommunications. He can be reached at




About the Author

Russ Munyan

Freelance Writer
Russ Munyan is a freelance writer in Olathe, Kan., specializing in technical and business writing. He can be reached at

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