Boise's New Airport Tower

Story by Stephanie Worrell | September 28, 2010

Keeping people safe: That is, in large part, the reason for the construction of the new air traffic control tower that broke ground earlier this year at the Boise Airport. It's also, in large part, always on the minds of everyone working on the project.

Keeping people safe on the Boise Airport ATCT construction site today is just as important as it will be when it's open to serve millions of future air travelers from around the world flying to and from the Boise hub.

Through an effort of Congressional delegation, local officials and business leaders, the Boise Airport secured several Federal Aviation Administration projects — one being the construction of the new ATCT — that will allow the Boise Airport to increase safety and expand operations during inclement weather and provide room for growth on its unused third runway.

Slated to be operational sometime in 2011, the current phase of construction of the air traffic control tower is being led by Layton Construction Co. (Sandy, UT), which staffs a fully operational regional office in Boise. Layton broke ground on the project on Feb. 18, 2008, and completion is scheduled on its portion of the project sometime in October 2009. The project will then be turned back over to the FAA for installation of the control instruments and equipment.

"Every week, staff, owners — anyone working on the site — sit down for what we call Tool Box Talks," said Layton's project manager, Gabe Beal. "These critical meetings serve as the jobsite-wide safety planning and precaution sessions. We talk about the current and future safety needs to make sure the site is as safe and secure as possible."

The new ATCT tower is expected to cost around $13 million and has formed part of a $28-million investment in the airport by the FAA. There also will be an upgrade of instrument landing equipment for low visibility and foggy conditions. This is a project of the FAA, and no local tax dollars are being used for it.

Tallest in Region

On completion, the tower will stand 290 feet high and will be the tallest structure in the state of Idaho — along with being the tallest ATCT in the Pacific Northwest region. The tower cab is located at 254 feet high and will contain 550 square feet with five air traffic controller positions. The ATCT is a cast-in-place concrete design, and the base building utilizes concrete masonry unit walls. The new ATCT has been relocated to the south side of the airport so that it can control an existing guard assault strip and also a prospective new runway, which would be constructed southeast of Gowen Field. The new ATCT will replace the 35-year-old, 65-foot tower currently in use.

The concrete and steel tower structure totals 13 floors, with the cab sitting on the 13th floor. All floors can be accessed by stairs and by an elevator that goes to the 11th floor. The floors below the cab are mostly dead space but also include mechanical, electrical, plumbing, fire pumps — all functions that will eventually make the ATCT operational.

A 5-foot-deep mat slab of concrete was poured as the tower foundation and incorporates reinforcing steel. An Atlas jump form system was utilized for the concrete tower shaft, which was used through the 12th story level. Interior levels of the tower are spaced at 26-foot intervals and are constructed of structural steel and concrete slabs on a metal deck. The tower cab was built with metal studs, Densglass sheeting and concrete panels. All concrete slabs on the metal deck throughout the tower incorporated rebar.

Five Cranes

Five different cranes were used on the site, with the largest being a 440-ton unit. Cranes served to lift out the concrete formwork and for general site work as needed. Inland Crane and Boise Crane out of Boise provided the necessary equipment as the needs of the job changed.

"We set the steel roof in one pick," said Beal. "We assembled the roof and floor of the cab on the ground then used the 440-ton crane to set both."

Layton, as it does on all job sites, made sure important precautions and guidelines were implemented with the cranes — and all the equipment used on the site in general (backhoes, fork lists, loaders, etc.).

"We made sure our pad was certified, that it was approved for the size of the crane," said Beal. "Crane operators are properly trained; along with an updated annual safety check (even if it was not up for renewal yet) is required on each piece of equipment we use on any job."

Other safety issues that were specific to this particular job included precautions related to the tower's height, along with open elevator shafts on each floor. A guard rail surrounded the edge of the roof and in each elevator shaft during construction.

At the time of publication, Layton was completing the interior finish work and moving toward turning the project over to the FAA in early fall 2009. In the spring, Xeriscaping will take place on the site.

An issue unrelated to the current construction phase is the fact that the FAA has made an initial decision to not include a terminal radar approach control facility (TRACON) in the tower. Instead, the plan is to merge or consolidate Boise into a TRACON center at Salt Lake City. TRACON controllers monitor and control aircraft as they approach or depart the airport area. The solution is not yet known, as Congress has blocked consolidation of all TRACON with a moratorium. At the time of publication, it was still not known whether or not the tower would contain TRACON, which could affect the opening date of the tower.

In the meantime, Layton continues working with its partners to turn the project over to the FAA with the ultimate goal of keeping travelers safe and satisfied with air service to and from Boise. In 2007, more than 3.3-million passengers traveled through the Boise Airport.