Despite a global pandemic, weeks of wildfires and the ongoing challenges of serving as an international travel hub, Oregon’s Portland International Airport is several years into a project to update and expand its facility while accommodating more passengers with modern services.
The first step was the extension of its Concourse E to create an airport section dedicated to Southwest Airlines flights and free up another concourse for Alaska Airlines. Following that project—with electrical installation by OEG Inc., Portland, Ore., and New York-based general contractor Skanska—the airport is in the process of upgrading its main terminal. The work is part of a five-year effort known as PDX Next that will modernize the airport to meet heavy 21st-century passenger and flight traffic needs.
Altogether, PDX Next represents $2 billion worth of construction and will deliver an inclusive, energy-efficient design that’s uniquely Portland, said Kama Simonds, aviation media relations manager at the Port of Portland. The Concourse E extension, completed in July 2020, has already accomplished what the airport calls terminal balancing, meaning passenger and aircraft traffic in the north and south ends of the airport is more evenly distributed. The extension added 800 feet in length and seven more gates, along with two ground-load gates, concessions and other vendors while creating improved airline operational spaces. Once the extension was completed, OEG moved on to electrical upgrades for the main terminal renovation, with general contractor team Hoffman/Skanska.
OEG has been working at the airport for over 20 years, said Josh Lewis, senior project manager at OEG. The contractor was awarded the concourse expansion project in 2018 and arrived on-site in May for the approximately two-year build. OEG furnished and installed a brand-new gear package, lighting and all low-voltage services. They brought in O’Neill Construction Group, also based in Portland, as lighting and controls subcontractor and OEG subsidiary ISG (Integrated Systems Group) for low-voltage work.
The project was centered around reducing crowding in the previous concourse that resulted from the airport’s continued growth. In fact, the airport served just shy of 20 million passengers in 2019 and had experienced its seventh year of passenger population increase.
“It was really, really busy, we had the two largest airlines in one concourse. To give both Alaska and Southwest more operational space, we needed to separate the two airlines,” Simonds said.
There were several objectives for the extension. One was optimal lighting.
“One thing people in the Northwest want is light. Our designers and contractors worked together to provide a lot of natural light in combination with lighting intelligence that illuminates the space when the sun goes down,” Simonds said.
Concourse E has unparalleled views of Mount Hood. The new concourse, designed by Portland architectural firms Hennebery Eddy and Fentress, aims to provide a uniquely Northwest appeal with the large windows and an LED curtain to draw the eye inside and outside of the space. Concourse E was also designed without columns to further show off the vista and ease circulation.
Lighting is one of those features people don’t notice until they are not comfortable in it, Simonds said. The goal was to make travel less stressful, while also creating minimal environmental impact.
“When you get the lighting right, it’s amazing, people just settle in, and that was top of mind for our designers,” she said.
To serve the airport’s visions, OEG first ran 5 kilovolt (kV) and 15 kV feeders from its Central Utility Plant (CUP) east of the parking structure to the terminal, said Ryan Richards project executive at Skanska.
Lateral LEDs were installed and automated to adjust to the lighting conditions. All fixtures and apron lights were LED, including QTY-1144 interior and QTY-86 facade fixtures, said Mike Ray, superintendent at OEG.
Then there was the LED curtain to light up the area with color, which changes every day. The curtain wall, designed as a glass facade, provides a colorful visual experience. However, the feature came with some unusual requirements. One of the challenges for OEG and Skanska was to install LED strip lights on the facade without the usual mounting options.
“Mike [Ray] was a key player in making that happen,” Richards said.
In fact, OEG held multiple design meetings with Skanska, the architects and the airport to create an installation plan for the LED curtain that would also take into account future system maintenance.
“Our safety-by-design approach to this installation, and many other installations, was the driving force,” Ray said.
The entire team understood OEG’s concerns related to providing a safe installation for the construction and airport teams that will be tasked with maintaining the system for years to come.
OEG also worked closely with the other subcontractors, including framers, glass and mullion installers, the siding company and sheetrockers, to ensure the cable would be installed in a fashion that protects it from physical damage while focusing on an installation schedule that allowed all parties to be as efficient as possible.
While the equipment was, for the most part, staged in a hangar, there were still some setbacks. One was procurement. OEG received 15 kV MV switches that didn’t meet quality requirements.
It took a few months to resolve the problem, and required OEG, the port electrical engineer, Skanska and the electrical design team to make several trips back to the factory.
“We asked to sit down with the QA/QC department to find the root causes,” Ray said. “Although painful at the time, I’m happy to say the manufacturer was very responsive, and all future switches arrived on-site with zero issue.”
COVID-19 struck in the midst of the project, and while work proceeded, social distancing requirements created more challenges.
“Thankfully, we were able to stay on schedule while adhering to new social-distancing requirements,” Lewis said.
Ultimately, OEG’s experience working in the airport ensured the challenges were met within the port’s requirements. Based on experience with tenant contracting teams who work in on-site airport construction zones, for instance, Ray said, OEG was able to prepare Skanska for the challenges OEG had experienced on similar projects at PDX.
“Introducing new contractors to an already busy and congested construction site presented several challenges, LOTO [lockout/tagout] being one of the more substantial,” Ray said.
The LOTO schedule required coordination between OEG’s team and each of the tenants who arrived on-site before the construction was completed.
“Essentially, OEG had not officially handed over the electrical system yet, as we were still under construction,” he said, adding that the tenant teams needed to perform their own electrical setup within OEG’s panelboards. This created some LOTO and punch list/warranty concerns, so OEG created a comprehensive LOTO procedure to meet tenants’ needs.
The EC also worked closely with Skanska’s commissioning team to ensure OEG was able to turn over the panels in the best way to meet contractual requirements.
“It was a bit of a rocky start, but after a week or so, everyone understood their role and responsibility,” which, Ray said, led to an incident-free turnover for all subcontracting teams.
Altogether OEG installed 4,000 feet of 5 kV and 15 kV medium-voltage cable, 10,000 feet of Belden multicable for door security and another 10,000 feet of Belden cable for lighting controls. ISG performed all low-voltage installations, including structured cabling, fiber, DAS system cabling and PDX security cabling. That meant running 122,000 feet of structured cable, 15,244 feet of fiber, 9,850 feet of high-count copper, and 53,720 feet of paging, coaxial and security cable.
To meet the small business participation requirements of the project, OEG partnered with certified small businesses, including Kodiak Pacific Construction, Sherwood, Ore., for excavation; and O’Neill Construction Group for installation of the entire lighting package, including the Greengate lighting automation, for which programming was performed by Greengate. Finally, Specialty Firestop Systems, Battle Ground, Wash., provided the firestopping. These companies contributed 28% of the installation.
“I’m happy to say that we’ve built lasting relationships with each of these subcontractors and we are now working with all of them on the PDX TCORE [terminal core] project,” Lewis said, where they are all performing similar scopes. “We hope to be as successful with small business enterprise on TCORE as we were on Concourse E.”
In fact, the team is applying lessons learned from Concourse E to further expansion.
“Our team recently performed a similar, but larger, 5 kV and 15 kV system reconfiguration on the TCORE project in preparation for the new Western Expansion (WE) build,” Ray said.
The WE will add 800,000 square feet to the main terminal. The company also began installation of QTY-(1) new 15 kV utility service from Pacific Power this spring. The current scope includes directionally drilling and installing QTY-(4) 6-inch raceways under the south runway and adjacent to the Oregon Air Guard base.
With Concourse E in operation as flights resume this summer, the airport boasts more space, lighting and the colorful LED wall to enhance passengers’ experience. Ultimately, Richards said his greatest sense of pride centers around the team that collaborated on the extension project.
“Everybody worked together really well, and we had no major conflicts,” he said, adding that the work itself is on display for thousands of passengers entering and leaving the city. “That is really cool,” he added.
“We were proud to be part of a collaborative team that gave the owner the best possible finished product,” Ray said.