When Maxine Hill arrived at WSP USA in March 2012, design-build was a project delivery option that WSP’s New York clients were not considering for their large building and infrastructure projects.
Times have changed.
“When I first came to New York, you couldn’t do design-build in this state,” Hill said. “The legislation wasn’t in place at that time to support it, so clients stuck with the traditional design-bid-build method. Some clients also had concerns that they might lose some control of the process under a design-build system.”
Design-build is a method of project delivery in which companies provide design and construction services work as one team for the owner. Design-bid-build splits the design and construction process into separate contracts, and the owner plays a more hands-on role with bidding services.
Throughout her two decades as a civil engineer in the UK, Hill became quite familiar with design-build, which is a more widely accepted method of project delivery in her native UK. One of the reasons she decided to continue her engineering career at WSP in the U.S. was to help usher in the emergence of design-build as a practical, efficient approach that can lead to projects being completed more quickly and at lower cost.
“The things that are the same about both approaches, irrespective of the size of the project, are the same things that make any project a success,” Hill said. “You need to have a talented team, great communication, and people who are all working together in the best interests of the entire project. But when you achieve this threshold with design-build, the speed and pace at which projects progress is incredible.”
Today, Hill serves as project director of a WSP and HOK joint venture that is designing the LaGuardia Central Terminal B project in New York City, a project being executed by LaGuardia Gateway Partners, a public-private partnership, on behalf of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Design work began in 2015, and construction began July 2016.
The project is the largest public-private partnership (P3) currently being undertaken in the U.S., with the private sector contributing more than $2 billion and the Port Authority contributing more than $1 billion to construct the airport and supporting infrastructure.
The new terminal will provide retail and dining space, a hotel, a conference and business center, and other features to accommodate growing passenger volumes.
“The existing terminal is dark, dingy and simply inadequate,” Hill said. “It was built in 1964 to accommodate eight million passengers a year, and at a time when security needs were not what they are today. Once you pass through security, you are trapped in low dark pier that has very few amenities. What is necessary and expected from airline passengers simply doesn’t exist at the current terminal.
“But the new terminal is going to be astonishing,” she continued. “It will be able to handle 17 million passengers a year, with modern baggage, check-in, and a huge retail hall with amazing opportunities passengers don’t have at the moment.”
One of her favorite features in the new terminal is the use of bridges from the head-house over to the bright, open concourses that will give passengers a bird’s-eye view of the airside operation and the concourses. “You will be able to see the entire concourse, see your gate, and know where you need to go and not rush,” Hill said. “And you will have a chance to relax with a coffee while you wait. People are going to choose to fly from LaGuardia because of Terminal B.”
The first concourse is anticipated to open to the public in 2018, with the main terminal building, security, retail, baggage opening in 2020, new and full completion of the project in 2022. WSP, together with HOK, is serving as the engineer of record through the completion of construction.
“It’s thrilling to be managing such a prestigious project,” Hill said. “It’s receiving a lot of attention within the aviation industry because of its size and complexity. I like the challenges of a big project, and LaGuardia provides plenty of those.”
One of the biggest of those challenges emerged early when thousands of parking spaces were lost to accommodate construction. “Drivers were just circulating around the airport, which increased the congestion problem,” Hill said.
LaGuardia Gateway Partners and the Port Authority created a task force to find a solution, which led to the creation of a shuttle service to take passengers to a staging area away from the terminal where they could then catch taxis, Ubers and limos without disrupting traffic.
“It was a radical thing to do at first, and some passengers were taken aback because it was a little less convenient,” Hill said. “But we made sure the travelling public knew where it had to go, and it has addressed the congestion problem until the new parking garage comes into use next year.”
Raised in Wales, Hill graduated from the University of Wales, Cardiff with a master’s degree in civil engineering. But after her first year in college, Hill nearly changed direction to pursue an ecology degree.
“After that first year, I hated it. The degree work was very theoretical, and I found it to be a bit dull. It didn’t do anything for me,” Hill said.
She took on a summer job opportunity as a student engineer, and the moment she arrived at her first construction site, her perspective changed.
“It was when I was out there in the field, converting what I was learning in the classroom into something real, that I totally fell in love with engineering,” she said. “It was a small road project, with a small team, but they took me under their wing and I changed my degree back to engineering.”
From working as a student on a small road project to a management role on one of the largest airport projects in the U.S., times have certainly changed for Hill.
“Mega projects are quite different and complex, but whether the project is small or big, the important thing to remember is that we’re all in this together,” she said. “Single-mindedness and a common goal are what get you through. I’m grateful that our LaGuardia team has risen to the challenge.”
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