Kansas City’s aviation planners and airlines are focusing on a new single terminal as the cheapest and best option for the airport’s long-term future.
But a Kansas City architecture firm says not so fast.
Crawford Architects has teamed with internationally known aviation design and construction firms to offer a rival, more economical concept for modernizing Kansas City International Airport. Crawford shared its plan with The Kansas City Star.
Significantly, the plan would keep the existing horseshoe configuration that many residents and travelers appreciate for convenient passenger drop-off and pickup.
Their concept calls for renovating and doubling the width of much of Terminal A, to provide space for two high-capacity security checkpoints, three baggage reclaim areas, retail and concession areas on the secure side, and 18 or 19 gates, plus adding new floors to the existing close-in parking garage, at an estimated cost of $335.6 million.
That cost includes money to fix the deferred maintenance and de-icer shortcomings of the existing building, providing a modernized terminal for Kansas City’s largest airlines.
As future airport needs are assessed, the plan says, a second terminal could then be renovated for the other airlines at similar cost adjusted for inflation.
Even accounting for unforeseen costs over time, supporters say, this more modest renovation approach would be cheaper than the $964 million to $1.1 billion estimates from the aviation department’s scenarios for either a new single terminal or complete rehab and reconstruction.
“We’ve thought about it. We’ve come up with a different answer,” said Stacey Jones, an owner and partner with Crawford Architects, which has done some Kansas City municipal projects but has not been involved in airport improvements.
“This is a more judicious look at what we actually need to operate an airport of this size. But we get to keep all the good stuff and fix all the bad stuff.”
Consultants working on Kansas City’s airport needs are reviewing the proposal and are expected to report back late this month. City Council members say it’s an idea at least worth exploring.
The Crawford firm teamed with Kansas City-area engineering firms and other global aviation specialists from San Francisco, London, Dallas and Denver.
Crawford Architects presented the plan at the request of City Councilwoman Teresa Loar, who remains highly skeptical about the continued push for a new single-terminal airport.
“The citizens of Kansas City do not want to tear down that airport,” said Loar, who took office Aug. 1 along with eight other new City Council members. “It’s just like they didn’t want to tear down the stadiums.”
Shortly before Loar and the new council took office, the aviation department and airlines briefed the previous and incoming City Council members on the results of many months of airport planning. At that July 21 briefing, they reported that it would actually be cheaper to build a new single terminal than to renovate two existing terminals, but they didn’t offer actual numbers.
Then on Dec. 10, they reported back with dollar figures, homing in on two renovation scenarios and two preferred single terminal options. The renovations were estimated to cost $1.04 billion or $1.19 billion, while the new terminal options were estimated to cost $964 million or $972 million.
Council members are still awaiting a detailed breakdown of how those costs were determined.
A Southwest Airlines representative said at the time that a new single terminal was preferable not just financially but also in terms of lower operating costs and better use of space, while it could still retain the conveniences that Kansas City airport users love about KCI.
The study group hopes to make a recommendation on a new airport plan by May. The City Council must approve any plan, and Kansas City voters have the final say on terminal improvement financing and construction.
Even before the December presentation, Loar reached out to Crawford Architects for different ideas.
“I’ve known them for years and years,” Loar said, adding that she invited them to research other options besides a massive gutting and reconstruction or totally new building that the current plans contemplate.
She said she believes the Crawford plan deserves serious consideration.
“It keeps the integrity of the airport as far as the convenience,” she said. “Renew and reuse, and I think it makes for a unique facility for Kansas City, just like the stadiums.”
The Crawford plan has been sent off for review by consultants working for the airlines, said Pat Klein, assistant city manager who is working with a study group representing the aviation department and airlines on a clear direction for the airport.
Klein said the airline consultants will determine whether the cost estimates are accurate, and whether the plan still satisfies all the needs of a more modern facility.
That’s a key question, whether this more modest renovation really positions the 43-year-old airport to last another four decades or so. Supporters of the single terminal concept have argued that their approach would be the quickest construction process and could retain the convenience for which KCI is known.
They say it would also result in the best and most efficient configuration for consolidated check-in, security screening, baggage operations, concessions, mechanical systems and technology.
Some council members have said they don’t want just a facelift renovation, like the $258 million project done between 2001 and 2004, that requires yet more upgrades in another decade.
Still, the city is scrutinizing the Crawford plan to see if it can meet those long-term requirements.
“If it’s legitimate, it’s legitimate,” Klein said, adding that it will be given a fair, objective review. He hopes to get that analysis back by late January.
Other council members say they want more information and other options besides what’s been presented.
At the Dec. 10 presentation, Councilman Lee Barnes wondered aloud whether Kansas City’s creative architecture and engineering firms couldn’t solve the airport’s problems without it costing close to $1 billion.
Barnes said the study group’s renovation options looked like total reconstruction, and he questioned why there wasn’t a viable solution with a less drastic impact on the existing terminals.
That’s what Jones says they’ve done with this new approach.
“There is a rush to make it a big box airport,” he said. “What we’re looking at is trying to improve the customer experience, keep the unique aspects of the facility, don’t just wash it away because other communities are already doing something different.”
Jones and partner David Murphy convened a two-day workshop Dec. 1 and 2, which included a tour of the existing airport.
While the terminals certainly have leaking basements and other deferred maintenance deficiencies, Jones said it wasn’t the crumbling, falling-apart situation that has often been described.
Crawford brought in representatives of Woods Bagot, a global design firm now working on the $535 million San Francisco airport terminal reconstruction project; London-based Mott MacDonald, a global engineering consulting firm; the S-A-P Group, which specializes in airport planning; Dallas-based Austin Commercial, a construction firm also working on the San Francisco airport project; Denver-based Rider Levett Bucknall, a project management company; Wallace Engineering of Kansas City; and BHC Rhodes civil engineering firm of Overland Park.
At their own expense, they came up with a terminal renovation plan, although Jones acknowledges this is an attempt to position the firms to work on the terminal improvement project in the future.
Jones said KCI offers an excellent renovation opportunity, because Terminal A is already shuttered, so it could be rebuilt while the other two terminals are in use. Then Terminal B could be redone later, he said.
Elements of the proposal include:
▪ Expanding about two-thirds of Terminal A from 60 feet wide to 120 feet wide with new construction on the existing roadway side, to provide more space for ticketing/security, gates, baggage and retail. Jones insisted this more modest renovation can still meet federal aviation security requirements and building code requirements.
▪ Reducing the four security check points in the terminal to two, still allowing for a decent, but potentially longer, walking distance for curb-side dropoff.
▪ Having baggage reclaiming in three zones, one at each end of the building and one larger central facility.
▪ Adding additional levels of parking to the existing garage, for a total of 2,600 parking spaces and one floor for commercial vehicles such as shuttles and taxis.
Total cost, including redoing all the mechanical and baggage systems and reconfiguring the roadway, is estimated at $335.6 million for the one terminal. Crawford said a second terminal could then be redone and it would all be cheaper than the single new terminal.
One key study group recommendation is to build two different levels for arriving and departing passengers to a new terminal, as has been done in many newer airports. But the Crawford proposal eschews that approach.
“There’s a big rush to doing both departures and arrival levels with two separate roadways,” Jones said. “When you’ve got a hub, a bigger terminal and a bigger airport maybe that starts to play into it. But if we can keep everything on the same level, we have no ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) issues, no people struggling up and down escalators and stairs.”
Klein questioned whether the plan provides enough parking, noting that the cost estimate includes a 2,600-space lot for Terminal A and presumably a total of 5,200 space for two terminals. The city’s aviation study group plan calls for a 6,500-space garage.
Jones said the plan could be adjusted to add more parking, which would add millions to the cost but would still be less expensive than what’s contemplated.
Jones did agree that building a new single terminal would likely take less time than renovating two terminals, and construction costs do go up over time. Plus, there could be operational efficiencies and savings with a single terminal, although Jones doubted they would be enough to justify the higher up-front cost of a dual-road single terminal.
Councilwoman Jolie Justus leads a committee that will soon start to look in earnest at all the airport options. She said her goal is to keep what people love about the airport while fixing its problems, although she doesn’t yet know the best solution.
She said she wants more information on what the Federal Aviation Administration requires to meet security demands and how the various proposals would satisfy those needs. The other council members of her committee — Loar, Dan Fowler and Quinton Lucas — all say they want that same information before making any recommendation.
The Aviation Committee expects to start holding regular meetings every two weeks, with the next meeting at 10 a.m. Jan. 26. The hope, Justus said, is to reach a conclusion in the coming months that will work for the airport for decades into the future.