Removing snow and ice from runways, taxiways and aircraft in freezing weather is critically important for keeping air travelers safe as they take off and land.
That’s particularly true in a regional hub like Juneau International Airport, where pilots already face the challenges of wind, threading between mountains and negotiating abrupt turns as they approach and leave. There’s no room for error, and a plane or airport vehicle braking and sliding on an icy or snow-slick surface could end in disaster.
After a groundbreaking in October, and finding an appropriate weather window, construction is underway for a new $18 million, 41,000-square-foot building that will house Juneau International Airport’s snow-removal equipment. The airport has not had a Snow Removal Equipment Building (known as a SREB), and has struggled to get by in a 55-year-old structure that was not constructed for winter maintenance equipment.
F & W Construction Co. is con-structing the $13.4 million building, and Secon Southeast Alaska will construct the $1.3 million geothermal loop field that will become the ground source for the mechanical heat pump system.
The snow-removal equipment building is an enclosed heated garage to house snowplows, sweepers, chemical spreaders, friction measurers and other vital equipment that keep ice and snow off runways and aircraft. Future additions to the SREB will provide maintenance facilities for the airport equipment and vehicles.
“Currently we’re in a winter shutdown,” said Robert “Robby” Capps, F & W’s president, in late January.
“The structural steel phase of the work will begin in April,” Capps said.
Groundwork that will be done by Secon Southeast Alaska in April will prepare the building for its distinctive vertical geothermal loop field feature, and F & W will connect the loop field to the building pumps, according to Catherine Fritz, architect for the Juneau airport. The loop field is scheduled to be complete by September, Fritz said.
“The work will closely interface with other construction projects in the northwest quadrant, so close scheduling will be necessary,” Fritz noted. “(The Juneau airport) will utilize construction management and inspection services by the design team as well as independent consultants to ensure successful installation of the loop field while maintaining safe and efficient airport operations.”
Completion of the building itself is scheduled for December, Capps said.
Right now, most of the airport’s snow-removal equipment is stored outside because only about 10 percent of it will fit into the 1962 storage garage.
Maintenance staff and operators worked in the elements and employees had to create makeshift arrangements to maintain trucks and other equipment that wouldn’t fit inside the building.
The airport’s winter crew of about 16 airfield maintenance workers and equipment operators — the summer crew is 10 — clears an average of 200 inches of snow off the runway each winter.
Once the new snow-removal equipment facility is finished, the aging equipment itself will be replaced.
The equipment storage building project is part of a multiphase airfield maintenance and operations facilities plan that will take several years to complete. Design team leader Sean Carlson of ECI Architects in Anchorage is currently working with the Juneau airport to plan the future phases that will follow the SREB.
Other recent capital projects at the Juneau airport have included runway resurfacing in 2015 and reconstruction of the apparatus bay of the Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting (ARFF) Station to house a new ARFF truck.
Tracy Kalytiak is a freelance writer living in Palmer.