On a higher plane
Airport revamp a lofty leap in Jackson Hole’s infrastructure
photography By Matthew Millman
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Ray Bishop stands on what once marked the outside curb where Jackson Hole Airport passengers braved sub-zero wind chill on winter days. Today, the airport director stands sheltered inside a long, airy corridor of wood, exposed beam, and glass.
For Bishop, who knows every detail of the $31 million airport expansion and renovation, this is a favorite spot—not because of the building but how it showcases its surroundings. This is the only commercial U.S. airport found inside a national park, Grand Teton National Park.
“Let’s not glorify the building,” Bishop says. “Let’s glorify the beauty of this unique place.”
Indeed, look east through panoramic panes to see Sleeping Indian, its cliff-studded headdress dusted in snow. Face west, and an upper bank of windows frame the Teton Range.
“This is the way airports are meant to be. This is where we were able to make the big wow,” says John Carney, of Carney Logan Burke Architects, a Jackson-based firm that worked with Gensler, the lead architectural firm internationally renowned for San Francisco’s airport, the Shanghai Tower, and Houston Ballet’s Center for Dance.
A singular corridor makes the airport simple for passengers to navigate, Carney explains.
Harder to navigate was the task of keeping flights running and bags sorted, without delay, during the year and a half construction, which added 52,000 square feet and renovated another 48,000. Carney compares it to “performing open-heart surgery on a marathon runner while they’re running a marathon.”
One of the keys to keeping operations smooth, Bishop says, was meeting weekly with the airport’s nimble staff and making adjustments as necessary. In addition, careful phasing scheduled the most disruptive work in slow times, when passenger traffic dips to a fifth of that during peak travel. In contrast, during busy seasons when the airport serves as many as 50,000 passengers a month, the project shifted work to out-of-the-way areas, such as the roof.
The project used portable structural steel tunnels to keep travelers and airport workers safely moving through the terminal while construction continued all around them. The airport also employed hosts to personally direct passengers to ticketing and security.
Now efficiency is the norm. With a new, roomier ticket lobby, which doubled the number of ticketing kiosks, and an expanded security screening area, waiting in line has dropped from forty-five minutes down to five, Bishop says.
Stepping into a secure area, Bishop shows off a project highlight that passengers won’t see. This airport was the first in the nation to receive American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds, $6.2 million, for baggage screening, allowing the airport to install first-of-its-kind luggage scanning technology.