Pushing Forward: Innovative Ways to Increase Parking Structure Sustainability

June 21, 2022
JE Dunn Construction
Stacey Flint
Stacey Flint

Innovations for traffic flow, navigation efficiency and airport management are constantly improving, but what about in/for the construction and operation of the parking garages? As owners are increasingly being challenged to step up efforts to reduce their environmental footprints, design and construction teams are answering the call by creating and applying innovative solutions in new airport parking structures. From environmentally conscious innovations in materials during construction to installing solar panels, the sustainability of parking garages is increasing in projects across the country.

Driving Change

There are many factors driving the change and emphasis on sustainability in all aspects of construction, with the biggest drivers coming from the top — starting with owners. The Port of Portland is highly dedicated to ensuring the sustainability and environmental consciousness of all their new projects, so it was no surprise that they were interested in pursuing a LEED Gold certification at the recently completed Portland International Airport (PDX) Parking Additions and Rental Car Facility (PACR) project.

“From project award, the dynamic design-build model was essential to delivering fast, iterative analysis, allowing the Port to make informed decisions and create a facility that meets its overall needs and the needs of the growing region — while also remaining environmentally responsible,” said JE Dunn Senior Vice President Kyle McQuiston. “We explored resiliency, redundancy and sustainability options along with Yost Grube Hall Architecture to ensure this facility is operationally robust while being a good steward of the budget, and the innovative solutions the team came up with did just that.”

At the new parking garage for the Kansas City International Airport (KCI), the push for sustainable solutions was embraced by the client — but really driven by the design and construction team banging the drum on its importance. “We as a company have a commitment to reducing the embodied carbon dioxide emissions across all projects,” said Mark Neibling, associate at BNIM. “We’re doing this by initiating and continuing industry dialogue, project goal setting, modeling, and partnering with our colleagues to better implement strategies for reduction across our design practice. This includes updates to our materials specifications, which opens the door for innovations in a variety of ways, with sustainability being the ultimate goal.”

Making Materials More Sustainable

In looking for ways to make projects more sustainable, project teams are exploring options in the materials to reduce a building’s footprint. For recent aviation parking garage projects, we are seeing results in employing a different method when it comes to concrete.

With plans to use 49,000 cubic yards of concrete in the PACR project, the team landed on using a material from CarbonCure, which manufactures a technology for the concrete industry that introduces recycled CO₂ into fresh concrete to reduce its carbon footprint without compromising performance. Once injected, the CO₂ undergoes a mineralization process and becomes permanently embedded. This makes the concrete stronger, enabling mix optimization while eliminating the CO₂. The use of CarbonCure was also part of an overall effort for the carbon offset credit of the overall project.

The results using this technology speak for themselves when it comes to increasing the sustainability of the materials themselves:

• 22,108 cubic yards of concrete made with CarbonCure

• 29,802 lbs. total CO2 injected

• 6.8 acres of forest CO2 absorption for a year

At Kansas City International (MCI), the design and construction team also looked for creative ways to increase sustainability. Unable to use a supplemental cementitious material throughout the parking structure, they still found a way to reduce its footprint. “When we determined we could not go the CarbonCure route, we turned our attention to other potential sustainable solutions for the concrete,” said JE Dunn Senior Project Manager Mike Boyd. “We used a white concrete mix on the top deck/level of the parking garage. This creates an SRI (Solar Reflective Index) that reflects the sun to avoid heat absorption, in turn reducing the heat reflected into the environment that can contribute to rising temperatures around them. In addition to the sustainability of the cement on the top, we added 510 PV modules on the south side of the garage to provide some supplemental energy.”

Energy-saving Solutions

In addition to achieving sustainability through material selection and innovations, the PACR team leveraged renewable energy to further elevate the sustainable elements of the parking garage. To do this, they installed photovoltaic panels on one side of the parking garage and routed all that power to the Rental Car Center (the recently completed LEED Gold building as another phase of the project). It covers nearly 10% of power usage in that building. “This project type afforded us a unique opportunity to install these panels due to the layout of everything,” said McQuiston. “We wanted to include the photovoltaic panels as part of our attempt for LEED Gold status on the office building, and the parking deck attached to it provided a lot of real estate for us. This is where we installed the long stretch of photovoltaic panels that feed the electrical supply for the office building; having this open real estate allowed us to install a larger number of panels for a higher renewable energy supply, which helps ease operational costs of the building as well.”

Another opportunity to save costs while boosting sustainability of airport facilities is linked to economy parking and the buses associated with them. At the new MCI, the electric bus fleet linking economy parking with the new terminal will recharge wirelessly — the first airport in the world to do so. The roadway for the new terminal includes embedded electric cables that will power two charging pads installed at the new garage once heavy construction has wrapped up. This required working with the Kansas City Aviation Department and Kansas City Area Transportation Authority on the desired buses and charger models. Once the bus type was established, the team coordinated with the charger manufacturer on the installation requirements and best practices to properly install the charging pads that will power the 62 stalls with EV chargers. The buses will be operational all weather, sending power magnetically across an eight-inch air gap to a plate on the underside of the EV vehicles.

A Credit to the Future

While all these efforts often translate into sustainable credits, it is not only about achieving those credits, but it’s also about pushing the industry forward in an environmentally responsible way. For the PACR project, the team is pursuing the maximum allowed number of innovation credits and have prepared many more. “We really took a lot of unique and innovative approaches on this project and are helping make the sustainability community better by submitting them as innovation credits. By doing so, it means the USGBC can case study them and help other projects potentially implement these innovations as well,” said McQuiston.

From materials to creative use of renewable energy, design and construction teams across the country are relying on innovation to enhance sustainability and operations of all buildings, parking structures included. As the industry continues to evolve and moves forward in what it means to construct buildings in a more sustainable way, the innovative solutions we can provide to achieve those goals will only increase in magnitude and open the door for further collaboration with owners to change the future together.

Stacey Flint is a senior project manager at JE Dunn Construction who started as a project engineer in 2013. A graduate of Norwich University and Southern Polytechnic State University, Flint has spent her entire 9-year career with JE Dunn where she has delivered projects in markets including aviation and healthcare. Flint is an advocate for women in construction and has helped spearhead JE Dunn’s internal networking group for women, in both the Atlanta and Portland offices, helping her earn the Daily Journal of Commerce Woman of Vision award.