It’s been nearly three decades since the first flight went wheels up at Denver International Airport (DEN). As the world’s third busiest airport that services close to 70 million passengers each year, it is essential that the airport’s terminals, halls, gates, and security checkpoints all receive the improvements and maintenance required to support the airport’s operations and accommodate its ever-increasing passenger traffic.
That’s exactly why DEN decided to embark on its Great Hall Project more than three years ago. With annual passenger capacity surpassing the Hall’s original intent and design, DEN finally put its renovation plans into motion by kicking off Phase 1 of the Great Hall Project in July of 2018. After a change in contractors and DEN’s project leadership team, and a global pandemic, the project has picked up steam and is on track for success.
Airport renovations can be challenging, since they still need to function as a major transportation hub even as construction is ongoing. Key to the high-wire act of an airport infrastructure project – like DEN’s Great Hall project – are the digital design tools that facilitate and streamline the project processes that ultimately deliver a new and improved building asset to the airport.
To learn more about the Great Hall project, the new accommodations it provides to its airline passengers and employees, and how digital design tools were used to bring this project to fruition, the GovDesignHub sat down with Michael Sheehan, DEN’s Senior Vice President (SVP) of Special Projects.
Here is what he had to say:
GovDesignHub (GDH): Can you tell our readers a little bit about your role and responsibilities at the Denver International Airport?
Michael Sheehan: As SVP of DEN Special Projects since Q1 2019, I oversee all the ongoings of our General Contractor and Construction Manager, Hensel Phelps. I also oversee the Baggage Handling System Capital Improvement projects.
I have been involved in capital projects for the past 27 years and my passion is the aviation industry.
GDH: What are the main reasons behind the Great Hall Project? What improvements or features will it provide to the airport that it didn’t have before?
Michael Sheehan: Our Great Hall Project addresses many needs, but the top priorities include enhancing security, upgrading our aging infrastructure, increasing capacity and improving operational efficiency and the passenger experience.
Since DEN opened its doors more than 26 years ago, we have welcomed billions of passengers and outgrown our existing facility. The terminal was originally designed to accommodate 50 million annual passengers. In 2019, DEN saw 69 million passengers.
DEN is currently the third busiest airport in the world. The Great Hall Project helps us get closer to building the infrastructure and passenger amenities that we need to continue to accommodate 100 million passengers and be a world class airport.
GDH: I understand that the project is being completed in phases. What is involved in each phase, and in which phase is the project currently?
Michael Sheehan: Phase 1 of the Great Hall Project was completed in November of 2021! Phase 1 has brought many features and benefits for passengers.
“DEN continues to see growing numbers in passenger volumes each year, and the Great Hall Project is vital to meet the demands of this growth.” – Michael Sheehan
The Jeppesen Terminal now has 31,000 square feet of additional space, as well as 158,500 square feet of newly renovated space. There are also new ticketing areas in the center of Level 6, with more efficient and state-of-the-art processes for checking-in passengers and their baggage flying with United, Southwest and, eventually, Frontier.
Phase 1 also included upgraded ticketing areas with ticketing kiosks for check-in and 86 (43 on each side) automated self-bag drop units to streamline the check-in process. Phase 1 of the project also brought four new restrooms with upgrades to existing restrooms into the fold.
The completion of Phase 1 now enables Phase 2 by creating new space for security facilities.
Once Phase 2 is complete, a significant portion of the security facilities currently located on Level 5 will move up to Level 6 West, increasing safety and capacity needs while making the screening process more efficient through additional space and technology enhancements. DEN continues to see growing numbers in passenger volumes each year, and the Great Hall Project is vital to meet the demands of this growth.
Phase 2 of the Great Hall Project broke ground in July 2021 and will enhance security by building a new security checkpoint on Level 6 in the northwest corner of the Jeppesen Terminal with a new triple escalator that will move passengers from Level 6 to the train platform on Level 4.
“BIM is being used as a coordination tool for the design and construction documentation.” – Michael Sheehan
Phase 2 will also usher in more efficient technologies, providing DEN the opportunity to adapt with new demands in the future. All Phase 2 work will be complete in mid-2024 with the new security checkpoint opening in Q1 of 2024, which will provide passengers with an improved security checkpoint experience.
GDH: How is BIM and BIM data being used in the expansion? What benefits does BIM deliver to the airport?
Michael Sheehan: BIM is being used as a coordination tool for the design and construction documentation.
Since all trades are integrated into the modeling process, this helps the design and construction teams identify issues early on (e.g., conflicts with structure and mechanical ductwork) and coordinate solutions.
Additionally, the project uses a cloud-based project management environment that centralizes project data and provides access to the information in real-time. Once built, the BIM models are used by DEN for future planning exercises.
GDH: What other design technologies are being used in this project? And how do they benefit the expansion project?
Michael Sheehan: The other big technology used on the project has been laser scanning. Scanning the current spaces and infrastructure in this manner gives us an accurate model of the existing conditions as a baseline to work from.
“The Great Hall Project has been sequenced in phases to help enable changes and implement new systems before taking away existing service or operational needs and also breaking up the construction impacts.” – Michael Sheehan
Furthermore, the project uses software to integrate the scans and the cloud-based project management environment, providing rapid access to various collaboration, measurement, and analysis tools to ensure that decision-making is based on the most accurate picture of the as-built situation.
GDH: Though the Great Hall is under construction, I assume that the renovated areas still must be operational for travelers, airport employees, etc. What are some of the challenges of undergoing such a massive project while still having to accommodate and operate? How is the airport overcoming these challenges?
Michael Sheehan: DEN is a fully active and operational airport. The terminal can see anywhere from 130,000 to 170,000 passengers daily. Building a project in the center of the third busiest airport in the world is challenging! DEN works very hard to make sure passengers are able to navigate through the terminal and operations are minimally impacted.
The Great Hall Project has been sequenced in phases to help enable changes and implement new systems before taking away existing service or operational needs and also breaking up the construction impacts.
Phase 1 of the Great Hall Project had what will likely be the biggest passenger-facing impacts as it closed the center of the terminal so passengers could not easily cross the terminal from north to south on Levels 5 and 6. Today, we are mostly isolated to the northwest corner of the Levels 5 and 6 where the new screening area and checkpoint is being built.
DEN takes great pride in customer service and experience. The project team has come up with numerous tools to help passengers cope with the construction impacts.
This included a new security checkpoint layout that provided significant efficiency over the Thanksgiving 2021 travel period, as well as tear-off maps that help show the changing detours that construction walls bring.
QR codes were also implemented throughout wayfinding signage on construction walls that take passengers to a live interactive map of the entire airport so they can get assistance through their entire journey at DEN. Lanyard cards were also provided to staff with information on how to navigate the terminal.
DEN also has other airport-wide assistance programs like volunteer ambassadors that help passengers throughout the airport, as well as the Passenger Assistance Program – made up of DEN employees who are also located throughout the terminal to assist passengers.
DEN also has a Canine Airport Therapy Squad (CATS). Located throughout the airport are friendly dogs and cats for passengers to interact with to reduce stress and put a smile on their face.
To learn about how BIM is aiding in the renovation of LaGuardia Airport in New York City, click HERE.
To learn how Tampa International Airport is utilizing BIM for facilities management, click HERE.