Mortenson Completes $105 Million in New Airport Ground Facilities in 11 Months for United Airlines

March 20, 2019

Mortenson used innovative construction technologies and Lean practices to build three major new ground facilities totaling 180,000 square feet for United Airlines at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport in less than a year. Mortenson fast-tracked the project because United Airlines needed to vacate its previous ground facilities to make way for runway construction at O’Hare.

Completion of the United project is a critical milestone in O’Hare’s massive modernization of its runways, which includes adding and extending some while closing others. The runway work complements the planned $8.5 billion investment to upgrade terminals and other amenities and add the first new gates at the airport in nearly 25 years. “This is a game changer for the city of Chicago,” said Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, according to a Chicago Tribune story. “I made a pledge that the city of Chicago, O’Hare, will not be measured by the busiest, but by being the best.”

Mortenson broke ground on the $105 million United project, which also included 1.2 million square feet of airside paving, in the last week of December, 2017. The airline received its occupancy certifications for the new Ground Equipment Maintenance and Facilities Maintenance & Stores in November, 2018. United uses the buildings for equipment maintenance and storage and to house its facility maintenance personnel, bussing operation, aircraft move team, and aircraft provisioning/cleaning operations.

Ghafari Associates served as architect, Ardmore Roderick as the lead project manager on the apron paving, Thornton Tomasetti as structural engineer, DB Sterlin as the civil engineer for the buildings, Burns & McDonnell as civil engineer for the aprons and Jones Lang LaSalle as owner’s representative.

“I am extremely proud of the Mortenson team that successfully delivered the North Airfield project,” said MacAdam Glinn, Mortenson general manager of aviation. “It is a testament to our skill and dedication that we were able to complete these high-quality facilities in such an accelerated time frame. Just as importantly, we are honored that we were chosen to partner with industry leader United Airlines on this transformational project.”

Given the project’s tight turnaround and complexity, Mortenson and its partners relied on a range of Lean and other innovative tools and processes:

  • Simultaneous drawings for structural steel: The team eschewed the traditional linear process for structural steel, which would have involved Thornton Tomasetti developing designs, then Mortenson’s structural steel subcontractor creating the next level of detail with shop drawings, then waiting for Thornton Tomasetti to review and sign off on them. Instead, the two companies developed their versions of the drawings nearly simultaneously using a shared software platform from Thornton Tomasetti. This approach cut as much as eight weeks from the schedule vs. the standard approach.
  • Pull planning: This Lean approach optimized coordination and productivity of the many subcontractors. For each phase of the project, such as the exterior work or underground work, a Mortenson project engineer would meet with all the subcontractors to agree on the sequences and duration of each company’s work and resolve any clashes.
  • Prefabrication: To ensure quality and save time, Mortenson worked with subcontractors to build the doors and hardware as well as all of the process piping offsite.
  • Staggered permitting: By securing city permits in sequence and for sections of work rather than seeking permits for the entire project at once, Mortenson minimized any schedule impacts while waiting for permits and FAA clearances.

“Mortenson ran this project with an emphasis on collaboration, innovation, and flexibility, which was vital to coordinating and managing the detailed design and buildout under a very compressed time schedule. The new ground facilities have expanded United’s maintenance capacity and capabilities so it can service a wider array of equipment,” said Weston Parker, Vice President who heads up Ardmore Roderick’s Aviation Group.

The O’Hare ground facilities and apron work are the latest in a series of Mortenson projects for United Airlines. It built a massive data center for the airline and renovated its B18 club for frequent flyers at O’Hare. Mortenson also constructed a new flight training facility in Denver.

The just-completed O’Hare project consisted of:

Ground maintenance equipment facility

The two-story, 140,000 square foot building features single-story 38-foot bays, with 11 overhead bridge cranes, four different kinds of vehicle lifts, and 54 overhead doors. The building is equipped with paint booth, loading dock, battery storage area, an automated storage and retrieval system and pallet racks with an automated handling system. The GEM also houses two oil water separators, a fuel island for fuel tank storage, a fuel and hydraulic fluid distribution system and air compressor system. It includes administrative offices, conference and training rooms, and employee locker rooms and lounges.

Facilities Maintenance and Stores building

This single-story, 40,000 square foot facility provides storage space and maintenance shops for United’s facility maintenance teams. It includes five overhead doors, a loading dock, pallet rack storage system and secure cage. It also has conference and training rooms and employee break rooms and locker rooms.

Airport Operations Services building

This single story, 40,000 square foot building houses the airline’s operating services, move and positioning crews. It reaches 30 feet at its highest point to accommodate extensive storage for the provisioning teams. The pre-engineered building is equipped with 12 overhead doors, secure cage, and two semi-loading docks. It also has training rooms, break rooms and locker rooms.

Apron work

This significant civil and infrastructure project resulted in 1.2 million square feet of concrete paving including new taxi lanes, concrete aprons and plane and employee parking. The paving is multi-layered, including 15” Portland Cement Concrete Pavement (PCCP), 3/8” choke stone, 5” cement treated permeable base (CTPB), geotextile fabric, 8” P-154M blended aggregate, 12” lime stabilized subgrade and millings produced onsite using recycled materials from the airfield. THE PCCP and CTPB were produced at an onsite batch plant. The work included a new storm and sanitary system as well as electrical switchgear, transformers and switchboards. The team also installed a new duct bank to power new high-mast lighting and power planes on the apron for testing and maintenance.