By Jack Stubbs
As a result of the currently-booming construction industry in the Puget Sound region, there are a number of complex in-the-works projects underway that are changing the fabric of the region.
Bethesda, Maryland-based Clark Construction Group is currently working on the International Arrivals Facility (IAF) at Sea-Tac Airport, a 400,000 square foot project scheduled for delivery in late Spring 2020 that is set to impact the area around the airport in the coming months as it nears completion.
Clark Construction is leading the way on the project—a collaborative effort between architects Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and the Miller Hull Partnership—for the Port of Seattle. Clark is a leader in design-build delivery and has successfully completed more than $20 billion of design-build projects nationwide, a large majority of which are located on the West Coast.
We recently spoke with Mike Tovaraz, construction executive with Clark Construction, about his background and role with the in-the works IAF development, associated challenges with the design-build project, and how it is set to impact future logistics and operations throughout Sea-Tac airport and the surrounding region.
Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your role at Clark Construction?
I was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area and moved to Modesto, California, following my completion of active duty status in the United States Marine Corps. I have spent most of my career (35-plus years) in the construction industry working on large commercial projects.
Currently, I am a construction executive with Clark Construction Group, having worked through the field ranks after starting my construction career as an apprentice carpenter. I first encountered Clark on the CHCF Stockton project, an incredibly fast-track, design-build correctional health care facility in Northern California from 2010 to 2013.
I joined the company’s Seattle Office in 2017. Since that time, I have been leading field operations on the Sea-Tac International Arrivals Facility (IAF). In this role, I am responsible for the supervision and coordination of Clark’s field operations, personnel on site, as well as coordination with our client, the Port of Seattle, and all project subcontractors.
What are some of the noteworthy design-build projects that Clark has undertaken in the region in recent years and what are some of the projects that the company is working on currently?
Our local team recently completed The Spark, a new academic building for Washington State University. The project was delivered via design-build and epitomized the value that can be derived from this delivery model.
In addition to our work at WSU, we recently finished the Veterans Puget Sound Healthcare System Metal & Research Facility for the U.S Department of Veterans Affairs. We are currently gearing up to expand the Washington State Convention Center. Over the past two years, our team has been working closely with joint venture partner Lease Crutcher Lewis to oversee pre-construction and make-ready activities in preparation for the start of construction this fall [on the project], which will add 1.5 million square feet to the existing convention center.
Finally, we were recently awarded a multi-building seismic improvements project at the University of Washington in Seattle. This is our first project for UW, but not our first seismic upgrade or project on a large active campus; we are well versed in both areas.
In addition to Clark’s vertical building operations, our subsidiary company, Atkinson Construction, is busy completing some critical infrastructure projects around town, including work on Sound Transit’s East Link Extension and Bellevue Tunnel projects.
How does the in-the-works International Arrivals Facility (IAF) relate to other projects that Clark Construction has undertaken in the past (e.g. the Sea-Tac South Terminal Expansion in 2004)? How does IAF represent a step into uncharted territory?
Similar to the South Terminal Expansion in the early 2000s, the IAF is designed to bolster the airport’s ability to support increased traveler traffic to and from the Pacific Northwest. Unlike the South Terminal Expansion, however, the IAF is being delivered using design-build delivery, which allowed Clark to become involved during a much earlier phase of the project.
What can you tell me about the timeline for the Sea-Tac Airport International Arrivals Facility (IAF) project? Where do things currently stand for planning efforts around the project?
Earlier this summer, we began structural steel operations on the IAF and we continue to work on foundations and utility relocations at the project site. Currently, about 20 percent of the structural steel is in place. Like any other large construction project, the IAF is phased, and we’re now preparing for erecting additional steel at both the IAF structure and the sterile corridor, as well as working on the elevated walkway assembly in the Cargo 2 location. At peak operations, we project having 500 craftworkers on site. Looking forward, we plan to deliver the IAF facility, which includes the pedestrian walkway and the sterile corridor, in late spring 2020.
What are some of the prominent design features of the project, and how do you hope these will contribute to other changes occurring at Sea-Tac Airport?
The new IAF is designed to improve the traveler experience, decrease passenger wait times, and support the airport’s desire to increase international flights to and from Seattle. One of the IAF’s most striking features will be its iconic, 790-foot-long elevated pedestrian walkway, which will connect international arrivals from the south satellite terminal, across the top of Concourse A, to the new space. The walkway will stand just over 111 feet tall, allowing planes to travel beneath its 80-foot-plus clear undercarriage. When complete, the walkway will allow 700 additional passengers per peak hour to access the IAF, improving the airport’s ability to handle more international flights.
Given the project’s prominent location at Sea-Tac, what were some of the affiliated logistical, practical and financial challenges in terms of how to approach the project?
Working on an active campus of any kind comes with logistical challenges, but an airport project is truly unique. Down time and disruptions can impact airport operations and the traveling public nationwide as well as internationally. Our team strives to minimize the impacts of construction activities, but that requires a creative approach to tackling the work and, at times, a healthy dose of patience. For example, if we are working in an active area of the airport during an approved-time window and a flight arrives late, we must stop work in that area until passengers disembark the plane.
Gaining access to work areas in an operational airport can also be a challenge. Staying on track requires constant communication with airport staff, as well as agility to stay on track despite unexpected interruptions.
We are working hand-in-glove with the Port of Seattle and other project partners to ensure [that] we address infrastructure appropriately as we move the IAF forward. Planning for unexpected discoveries is always a challenge, but we strive to remain nimble in order to meet these situations with effective solutions as they arise.
How have you seen Sea-Tac expanding and changing over the last few years and how does it continue to contribute to the growth and connectivity in the region?
Sea-Tac continues to be rated among the busiest airports in the nation. Projects like the IAF and North STAR will continue to expand the airport’s capacity to serve the growing needs of the traveling public and provide greater access to the region and points beyond.
The IAF will nearly double Sea-Tac’s capacity to handle an increasing number of wide-bodied international aircraft and is anticipated to open the doors to more routes to Asia, making it faster and more convenient to travel internationally. This could have a profound impact on the region on many fronts—from tourism to business.
Specifically, what strategies do you think contractors and design-builders—and other members of the AEC community—will need to bring to the table when it comes to navigating these project challenges moving forward?
Early stakeholder input, collaboration, and communication are essential elements of any successful design-build project. Determining ways to further enhance these facets of project delivery will yield greater certainly of success for both clients and contractors alike.
Specifically, how have you seen the construction industry changing over the last few years?
While traditional hard-bid, lump-sum contracting dominated the construction industry for the greater part of the 20th century, nuanced approaches to project delivery—such as Construction Manager at Risk, Design-Build, and Progressive Design Build—have steadily taken hold as clients look to realize the added value that comes from early team integration.
Improved collaboration can help overcome inefficiencies that impede successful delivery of a project by spurring innovation and creative problem solving and bringing entities in alignment with project goals. Further, these alternative delivery models have gained popularity in the marketplace because of their proven ability to yield a greater focus on quality, cost certainty, and ultimately, a better product and team experience.
What are some of the other noteworthy transportation projects occurring throughout the region that you think will continue to shape and push the Puget Sound region forward?
There is so much activity in the region right now; it’s exciting to watch. Additional infrastructure improvements such as the new SR-99 Tunnel and 405 interchange work, as well as Sound Transit’s light rail extensions, are big deals for the region and will help to relieve traffic issues and improve connectivity.
Concerning the aviation industry and airports in particular—and as the population continues to grow—do you think we have the necessary capacity and infrastructure to meet the growing needs of our region?
While I am not an expert on the region or in airport master planning, I do think the Port of Seattle has experienced folks who are dedicated to this task. I’m certain they are focused on thoughtful planning and growth to prepare the airport to meet the evolving needs of the region.