UPDATE: Airport OKs $325,000 in 'betterment' projects

December 18, 2009

The city’s new $1.1 billion airport terminal has been called a lot of things, with an aerodynamic shape likened by the unwashed to a saddle or even a potato chip.

Architects describe it by dropping $50 words like “industrial grandeur” for the way its exposed roof trusses and vertical bow strings mate to produce joyous undulation.

But to some skycaps and ticket counter workers near the upper level front entrance, the terminal is just plain damp, cold and sometimes retina-searing.

A year of living with the architectural landmark has revealed a number of issues that call into question whether functionality in some cases took a back seat to aesthetics.

The Indianapolis Airport Authority board on Friday approved $325,000 in projects to address two of the more nagging issues.

Among them is inadequate protection during inclement weather for skycaps and passengers at the second-level drop-off platform.

The terminal’s high, wing-like roof overhang hasn’t provided much protection during blowing wind, rain and snow “given the prevailing winds from the west and southwest, and the lack of direct overhead cover,” the Indianapolis Airport Authority said in a memo about a bid to add weather enclosures to address the problem. Neither has the slight overhang of the skycap area itself, or a curbside canopy over the first lane of traffic at the entrance.

The authority board on Friday approved a $263,000 contract to Gibralter Construction Corp. to build weather enclosures on skycap/curbside check-in stations serving Air Tran, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and Southwest Airlines.

They’ll consist of fixed and movable glass doors that can be stowed when the weather improves.

Weather exposure wasn’t much of an issue at the frumpy old terminal, where the second-level drop-off area was entirely covered by a roof that nearly eliminated exposure from wind or blowing rain.

Meanwhile, the airport board also OK'd a $61,000 contract with the C. Ed Mullins firm to install roller shades in the terminal ticket-lobby windows –- the massive, south-facing windows at the drop-off entrance.

Soon after the terminal opened late last year, airlines complained about sunlight flooding the ticket lobby and blinding ticket counter employees and making computer screens hard to read. Tinting was installed as a temporary fix.

Airport officials disagree that the money being spent is to fix what amounts to design flaws.

“These are betterment projects, not design flaws,” said Susan Sullivan, authority spokeswoman. “Much like moving into a new home, once we had ‘lived’ in the terminal for awhile, the airlines requested the improvements to help them improve customer service for the flying public.”

The authority said the costs of the so-called betterment projects were factored into the terminal project’s original cost projection.

The master designer of the terminal was St. Louis-based Hellmuth Obata & Kassabaum, with a number of local architects and engineers taking on various aspects of the work.

In addition on Friday, the authority, to little surprise, plans to officially stamp as dead a plan to relocate its Indianapolis Metropolitan Airport in Fishers.

It’s been over a year since there was any serious discussion of a potential relocation, which had been pushed by private developers salivating over the potential of the 450-acre general aviation airport site and by ambitious Fishers town officials coveting potential tax revenue from the development.

In 2007, the Flagship Enterprise Center in Anderson commissioned a study on behalf of Fishers for land in southern Madison County on which to relocate the airport. In the end, nothing came of it.

A resolution the airport authority is likely to sign Friday will officially state Metro “has sufficient capacity and facilities for the aircraft which it is currently designed to handle.”


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