PUBLISHED: 4:14 PM on Wednesday, October 10, 2007
Juneau Airport continues renovation, expansion plans
Good news circled the Juneau International Airport, as Juneau voters approved the temporary 1 percent sales tax for the Oct. 2, city election, which will now extend into 2013. It means more money and steps closer to phase two of the airport project improvements.

"We're very excited and happy that the sales tax passed," said airport architect and project manager Catherine Fritz. "It's at a really important time right now because we're accessing how much we can put into phase one with the dollars we have available, knowing the sales tax money is there to help is a tremendous boost if we're not able to make all of the scope we want in our existing funds.

Over a period of five years, the sales tax will provide approximately 10 million in addition to the airport's budget of 10.7 million, Fritz said. The sales tax funding will be the focus of the second phase.

"We certainly have a list of needs; our total terminal needs are over 50 million," she said.

Photo by Catherine Fritz
  Customers gather around the ticketing counter at Juneau International Airport, checking in fish boxes and checking in for a flight. Alaska Airlines and TSA are collaborating on a two million dollar project to redesign the entire check-in process.
It's been 25 years since the last significant renovation at the airport, and parts of the airport date back to 1948; the project has been a long time coming.

For phase one of the project, the airport will be adding about 8,000 square feet of usable area to the east end of the terminal. On the first floor, renovations include improvement of the ticketing and check-in process, baggage claim expansion, relocation of the Rent A Car counter and car access, addition of a group seating/staging area and an additional entry/exit vestibule.

The second floor would include more space for passenger security screening, expansion of meeting and greeting areas, reconfiguration of rest rooms, a new stairway to the baggage area to increase passenger/visitor circulation, addition of a concession area and addition of an office space/meeting room.

"There's a lot of traveler amenities that have been requested and demanded through community feedback through a variety of meetings and surveys.

"Some of the things we here from people are improved concession stands on the secure hold room size," she said.

There's also interest in limited retail on the secure size, but the airport doesn't have specific details identified yet.

Addition of group seating and staging area was requested for visitor improvement services.

"There's not a good gathering area for those people. It's very confusing for a visitor who's not familiar with the surrounding and who's in their group and who's not and what's going to happen next," she said.

Other purposes for the staging area would include accommodating school sports teams as well as welcoming the Legislature and other special events.

Addressing the existing baggage claim, which is a T-shaped on-the-surface bag belt and118 lineal feet, is not large enough to handle the amount of baggage and deficient when multiple flight occur. "This flat plate bag belt will be 190 lineal feet," she said concerning the new baggage claim.

TSA and Alaska Airlines are also working collaboratively to redo the ticketing lobby; the airlines will be spending 2 million for the project.

Part of making the project successful has been a partnership built with a variety of stakeholders and one of the most important ones is Alaska Airlines, Fritz said.

"Alaska is working on implementing their two-step program. They have the first piece out here-the check-in kiosk. This is an interim first step measure to see how it would do in Juneau," she said.

Alaska Airlines will be redesigning the entire check-in process.

"You'll do is get your boarding pass and then move on with your luggage to go on this belt-conveyor type thing, similar to Anchorage. They're working with TSA for the bag screening process," she said. "It doesn't matter how fast you can check in a passenger, if the bag screening process can't be sped up then you have a huge bottleneck.

"That collaboration with our stakeholders via the visitor industry, the Airlines, the other tenants we have here are really key to the success of this project. We're working very hard to understand what their needs are and have those aligned what our needs are as an airport because we depend on each other," she said.

The reconfigured ticketing lobby will be approximately 5,700 square feet and the ticketing area/counter will be approximately 1,300 square feet.

"It will make that crowded space area downstairs much relieved. It will push toward the east into the rental car parking lot, but the lot has a little bit of wiggle room, we don't expect to lose any rental space," Fritz said.

"This pretty much replaces the approximate 7700 square feet we've lost to the security requirements we now have at the airport that this airport was never designed for," Fritz said concerning the second floor expansion.

Previously, the airport leased out FAA offices that brought revenue to the airport, which were vacated to accommodate security upstairs.

"We're trying to balance the lease spaces over the amount of revenue we can get over time," she said.

"The main project upstairs is reorganizing the core of the second floor space with respect to passenger screening. We will take the mechanical room on the second floor now and put all the new mechanical equipment up on a roof in a penthouse thus freeing up a lot of interior space so we can have much more of a transparent area," she said.

The transparent area will be designed with big windows capturing light from the airfield. As passengers or visitors climb up the stairs, they can see where they're going into screening and right into the departure lounge.

The airport plans on starting construction this summer, and are scheduled for bidding March 2008.

"It will take about a year; we have to keep the airport operating 24/7. The nature of the work out here will mean certain things take a longer because we're having to work around operations and a facility that's secure," she said.

In terms of the maintenance and operating of the terminal, Fritz expects the operation costs to go down, because they're working at replacing old inefficient systems.

"A really important piece is aesthetic as well as a new structural grid and other components toward moving the terminal toward more work in the future. We're not just trying to patch and blend in with what we've got; we're trying to move it to a new architectural form that is more responsive to our climate," Fritz said.

Futuristically, the airport hopes to find the dollars to improve the north wing and create a more regional hub by thinking of its needs. Ideas range from cold food storage, freezer storage or dry storage.

"We believe the whole north end could look really regional with the use of materials and Native Alaska cultures, the aviation history of our region. It could be a very exciting, modest piece of architecture that gives (visitors) a fabulous impression of Juneau and makes them want to come back," she said.