A First-Class Renovation: Morrow-Meadows Corp. Gives LAX A Facelift

Photos courtesy of Morrow-Meadows Corp.

The Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) is the fourth-busiest airport in the world and the second-busiest in the United States. It served more than 86 million passengers in 2017 alone. It started in 1929 as a single hangar and has expanded into nine passenger terminals. In its continuing evolution, it is undergoing an estimated $8 billion renovation program.

While many construction companies are involved in projects at LAX, Morrow-Meadows Corp. (City of Industry, Calif.) has maintained a presence there for more than two decades and completed $400 million in projects.

“Data infrastructure modification and improvements are an integral part of keeping the airport functioning and up to date with new technologies,” said Joseph R. Babcock, executive vice president, estimating and preconstruction, Morrow-Meadows. “It’s all data, which involves maintaining connectivity for all participants: air traffic control, operations at Los Angeles World Airports [LAWA], federal and local law enforcement agencies and each individual airline operating at LAX and their respective technical support groups across the nation and around the world.

“All the adjustments have to be done without interrupting flight operations, including replicating live data circuits and finding ways to temporarily route around affected systems. Communications is something no one ever sees, yet if it fails, the airport’s operations can be severely impacted, which can affect other parts of the country. The same relates to power. The airport will not let us turn anything off, not even a 20-amp circuit breaker, without submitting requests and doing extensive research to discover what will be affected,” he said.

As one of the challenges of working at an airport, Morrow-Meadows faced an ongoing problem: lack of storage space.

“Within the terminals and on airport operating areas, there is virtually no space for a laydown yard or storage of material and equipment,” said Jeff Janis, vice president of project management, Morrow-Meadows. “We have to continually feed the jobs on a daily basis. We have to have deliveries coordinated with the schedules of airplane arrivals in off hours, normally between midnight and 5 a.m. Currently, Morrow-Meadows occupies a 10,000-square-foot office space close to the airport to back up operations working with a staff of 25 and in a 35,000 square-foot warehouse from which staff make multiple daily deliveries to keep their crews supplied with the material and equipment.”

Morrow-Meadows is completing two projects in 2018: the Southwest and Delta Airlines terminal renovations.

Working on the Southwest terminal without disrupting airline functions was like "doing a heart transplant on a marathon runner while he was running," said Jeff Janis, vice president of project management, Morrow-Meadows
Working on the Southwest terminal without disrupting airline functions was like "doing a heart transplant on a marathon runner while he was running," said Jeff Janis, vice president of project management, Morrow-Meadows.

Southwest Airlines terminal

In 2014, Morrow-Meadows was awarded the design-assist electrical contract to renovate and modernize the outdated Southwest Airlines facilities at LAX’s Terminal 1. The four-year, $600 million project for general contractor Hensel Phelps Construction Co., headquartered in Greeley, Colo., will be completed in December 2018.

The remodel kicked off in 2014 with the replacement of all of the terminal’s electrical switchgear. All electrical rooms and telco/data rooms were completely rebuilt, providing a new backbone for the renovated terminal.

Morrow-Meadows installed all-new supporting electrical infrastructure starting with two new 5,000-ampere (A), double-ended main services supported by corresponding 5,000A busways. Morrow-Meadows also installed low-voltage systems, including LAWA proprietary support network, telco/data, fire alarm, access control, audiovisual and specialty airport signage, which displays arriving and departing flights. It rebuilt every electrical room, every feeder, distribution panel, and replaced every branch circuit panel.

The project scope included renovations of all of the hold rooms where customers sit and wait for their planes and the checkpoint areas where customers go through TSA screening and hand luggage is X-rayed, installation of the infrastructure for new ticket counters, and a new inbound and outbound baggage-handling system that transports luggage away from the lobby area to a back-of-house matrix where checked baggage is X-rayed for compliance with security requirements. In addition, the entire ramp level where the airline has its operational facilities (i.e., the line maintenance department where mechanics check planes and troubleshoot solutions to any problems) was also completed.

“The entire terminal was renovated in a sequential manner to make sure we never shut down any of the airplane gates unnecessarily to limit Southwest’s flight schedule; that was an ongoing challenge,” Janis said. “RFIs, updated bulletins, changes and modifications from the original plans were the standard operating procedure every single day, with well over a total of 1,100 change requests.”

At the heart of the project’s success was the team of Dana Markle, Morrow-Meadows senior project manager, and Angel Oseguera, field superintendent.

“During the four years of the project, we had to take the aircraft gates out of service to support some ramp repaving, but other than that, we successfully installed brand-new power and new data systems throughout the terminal while the terminal was functioning,” Janis said. “We have come to think of our tasks as though we were doing a heart transplant on a marathon runner while he was running.”

GC Hensel Phelps Construction Co. was pleased with the outcome.

“When you are undertaking a large-scale project like the Southwest Airlines Terminal 1 renovation, you need trade partners that understand the operations of a major airport,” said Jeff Brunswig, operations manager, Hensel Phelps Construction Co. “Morrow-Meadows has proven to be that consistent partner that understands how to maintain the airline’s operational efficiency while performing a major airport renovation. Morrow-Meadows is a key to the success of this project.”

The project scope included renovations of customer waiting areas, TSA screening checkpoints and a new baggage-handling system that transports luggage away from the lobby area to a matrix where checked bags are X-rayed for security compliance.
The project scope included renovations of customer waiting areas, TSA screening checkpoints and a new baggage-handling system that transports luggage away from the lobby area to a matrix where checked bags are X-rayed for security compliance.

Delta Airlines project

When Delta Airlines wanted to expand its services at LAX, the company negotiated with LAWA to vacate Terminal 5—a terminal with a limited space to park airplanes—and move into terminals 2, 3 and 6 and the Tom Bradley International Terminal, which housed a number of smaller airlines including Hawaiian, Frontier, Spirit, Sun Country and more. This move would give Delta more gate space to park its airplanes and increase its presence at LAX.

Between April 2016 and May 2017, Morrow-Meadows was contracted by Clark/McCarthy Joint Venture to be the principal electrical and data systems cabling contractor responsible for power, lighting, lighting controls and various data and security systems installation. The project required 480,000 labor man-hours. The challenge was to move 21 domestic and international airlines without impacting operations. Preconstruction efforts took off in early 2016 with actual construction activities commencing in September 2016 with a mid-May 2017 move, which involved 1 million square feet of construction completed in that nine-month period.

Morrow-Meadows’ core challenge was to design and construct new data systems networks in all affected buildings, since Delta uses a proprietary network and other carriers involved in the move rely on ‘common use network’ provided by airport authority.

Terminals 2 and 3 were outfitted with 14 new intermediate distribution frame/main distribution frame (IDF/MDF) rooms and Terminal 5 received five new IDF rooms, together with associated 26 miles of fiber optic cable backbone complemented by 400 miles of copper horizontal category cabling, connecting more than 3,000 new devices ranging from desktop work terminals to automated check-in kiosks and flight information displays.

A secondary challenge was to provide enough new power to support added network active equipment, lighting and HVAC loads.

In addition, more than 300 work spaces were added or renovated, including an operations center, aircraft ground service facilities, flight crew lounges, restrooms and offices used daily to support flight maintenance accommodations and passenger experience and an expansion of the baggage-handling system capacity in Terminals 2 and 3 to handle added customer flow.

To facilitate the move, Delta’s data and that of the other airlines had to be transfered from the old terminals to its new ones in three overnight processes so to not disrupt airport operations.

The first few months involved the work of 75 electricians and 40 data technicians doing investigative work. Dave Quinn, Morrow-Meadows project superintendent, and Candelario Nava, systems general foreman, were tasked with keeping the group focused and productive.

Since every airline had different concerns, Morrow-Meadows personnel met with representatives from each one to discuss the details of the replication.

“The process involved moving fiber strands across on a facilitywide fiber network to make sure nobody missed any services and to the replication of all of the data systems that were in Terminals 2 and 3 and Tom Bradley International Terminal,” said Jeremy Dixon, Morrow-Meadows systems project manager.

“We doubled them and then made them present in Terminal 5 and vice versa, so that personnel could get up from their desks at 10 p.m. on the planned evening, walk across the airport, sit down and plug in their computers and have everything work perfectly,” said Max Seagal, Morrow-Meadows project executive. “We did that for 21 airlines over the course of three nights, which took an enormous amount of coordination and forensic research by our low-voltage design division (led by Dickson and director of field engineering Mark Danyluk) to ensure that every airline had their systems connected and that their signal got out to their respective data and voice carriers.”

That required extensive coordination.

“Morrow-Meadows was integral to the project’s success and was a great partner,” said Greg Zinberg, vice president, Clark Construction Group. “With their knowledge of the LAX facilities and procedures, they were able to make continuous progress and then effectively surge as spaces were released for construction in support of the move.”

More than 400 electricians worked three shifts, 24 hours a day, seven days a week for the final months as the scheduled delivery date grew closer.

“Our guys were instrumental in collecting the data and then applying it to the locations where the airlines would occupy so that, while they were waiting to move their IT departments, our crew could come in and precheck so that when they moved on that night there wouldn’t be any hiccups,” Janis said. “We couldn’t have hiccups. Airplanes were in the sky and scheduled to land. We had to be prepared to receive them and get them properly supported for future scheduled dispatch time slots.”

Fortunately, no turbulence was experienced during the project.

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