Published July 10, 2020
We can all agree that moving isn’t a joy ride. But it’s certainly more fun when you have Caitlin Powell on your team. A project manager at Skansa, she’s helped people at PDX settle into their new home at Concourse E. That means she’s made some good friends with folks at Southwest Airlines. We caught up with her to hear what’s on her mind as the project comes to a close.
Caitlin’s an airport aficionado. “I'm a world traveler. I've been to 24 countries and eventually would like to make it to them all. So I’ve spent lots of time in airports, and I’m always checking out what they do well and what they should do better. I use PDX as my comparison because they focus on the passenger experience. There’s a reason they’ve won those national awards for so many years in a row.”
The pandemic pushed her team to get creative — fast. “It amazes me how people are always learning, always adapting, always creating new solutions — and construction workers are brilliant at that. We’re seeing that especially now. At first, it was like, how do we do all of this with social distancing? I was really impressed by our crews and subcontractors, who so quickly found new and creative ways of doing things.”
The team had a few laughs along the way, too. “Whenever we have a question for the construction team, we write what’s called an RFI, a request for information. And we’ve written a lot of them for this project. We’ve made the process fun. When we hit the first 1,000 RFIs, for example, I dressed up in a costume and the Port construction manager got a cake that said ‘1,000 RFIs.’ We busted into our weekly meeting, where there were about 40 people. I pushed the cake into the room. He played the music. Now everybody keeps joking with me about costumes.”
Building Concourse E is a career highlight. “I’ve been in the construction industry for 14 years and I think this has been my favorite project I’ve ever worked on. So, you know, moving on to other projects feels bittersweet. There are just so many great people at PDX. It's such a dynamic place to work and I am so proud to be involved with a project that will impact so many people’s lives.”
You might spot her in line at the new Tillamook in Concourse E. “I'm most excited for the public to just feel the vibe and see the natural light. I'm also really excited for them to eat at the Tillamook ice cream bar. I am a huge ice cream fan. I could eat it for breakfast if I let myself.”
Here's what this year will look like for PDX (and you!)
For the past year, we've built a nine-acre roof on a prefabrication lot to the northwest of the airport. The construction crews are now installing the last component—an intricate wood lattice, sourced from sustainable Northwest forests, that will eventually cover the interior ceiling.
What you'll see: If you drive along Marine Boulevard, you can glimpse the roof's dramatic swoops in the prefab lot.
Behind all those partitions in the pre-security area, construction crews have been hollowing out the back half of the main terminal. Starting in March, the exterior structure is also coming down to create a more open, spacious footprint. It may get noisy for a few months!
What you'll see: Not much, in fact. But when you’re in the ticket lobby and going through security, you may hear and feel what’s happening on the other side of those partitions. We're strategizing ways to counteract the sound, including free earplugs at the front doors and a sensory room in Concourse D.
Next, we’re erecting 34 giant steel Y-shaped columns to hold up the roof. Right now, construction crews are driving steel pilings deep into the ground to anchor these columns. Over the course of a few months, we’ll erect the Y columns one by one.
What you'll see: You probably won't notice—most are going up overnight behind the temporary walls. Late-night travelers will occasionally have to walk a few yards around an installation site.
Once the biggest section of the wood roof is fully assembled, the project team will break it back down into 20 "cassettes". During the summer and fall, Hoffman-Skanska and Mammoet will maneuver each cassette into place over the existing roof. It will take several days to place each cassette, and the work will happen overnight — depending on the section we’re placing, we may guide late-night travelers around a short detour.
What you'll see: Unless you're flying into PDX on a late-night flight, or camped out on Marine Drive at 2 a.m., you won't see much. If you walk to the ends of Concourse C or Concourse D and look back toward the main terminal, you'll catch a glimpse of the airport's new roofline.
In addition to the big projects, you’ll see a host of new amenities appear throughout the airport. A new play area in Concourse E. New art. New restaurants and cafes. (Lardo! Screen Door! Good Coffee!) You're almost guaranteed to encounter something new every time you visit the airport — and we're not talking barricades.