Out of Harm's Way
November, 2004A new canopy system has allowed Tulsa International Airport's parking customers to leave their cars without worry.
If your car has ever been damaged by hail, then you know it's not a pretty sight--and neither is the repair bill. People in the Tulsa, Oklahoma-area experience their share of strong storms every year, many that include hail. So it's no wonder that wherever they park their cars, they seek as much cover as possible for their vehicles.
Until recently, however, cover wasn't available on the top floor of the parking garage at the Tulsa International Airport. Clients of the airport scrambled to secure downstairs parking whenever possible to afford their cars the most protection they could. Still, some 600 or so spaces of the 1,000-plus spots in the two-story garage remained uncovered, and many clients had no choice but to use them.
In an airport that services some three million passengers per year on six major airlines plus charters, that was a real problem. This was especially true for long-term parking clients, whose cars might sit in the exposed spaces for a week or more at times.
"Everyone wanted to park downstairs, but we didn't have the room," says Tony Morreale, engineering section chief at Tulsa International. "Not only did our clients want to avoid hail, but they wanted shade from the sun during the hot summers."
With regular requests for some sort of solution to the top-floor exposure to the elements, Tulsa International began to seek out methods for covering the exposed parking spots. Working with a consultant, Tulsa considered a variety of shade solutions. One of the suggestions was to look into a shade system that had been successful at the Oklahoma City airport. After considering its options and narrowing down the list, the airport began seeking out bids.
It turns out that the same type of structure that worked in Oklahoma City was also the right answer for Tulsa International. Coming in with the lowest bid and the optimal solution for Tulsa International's parking garage was WorldCover, LP, designer of total weather protection systems. The company designed a custom shade system that has turned what once was an area to be avoided in the parking garage into a packed house. "The customers love it," says Morreale. "We're always full now."
Making a change
Putting the new shade system into place at Tulsa International came with its own unique challenges, says James Thomas, CEO at WorldCover. "This was about a 30-year old garage, so we had to retrofit the canopy structure over existing columns to support the system," he explains. "They had a poured, cable tension design in place that we had to work around. Then we retrofitted double- and single-cantilevered canopies onto the supports."
Morreale says that in all, more than 200 columns had to be installed to make the system work in the aging garage. Then steel poles had to be welded to the columns. "Pouring the columns was time consuming, especially if we had to delay for cold weather," he says. "When it was windy, we couldn't work on the canopies."
Making the challenge even tougher was a small window of opportunity for setting up the structure. "We had 120 days to work on the project, but the airport didn't want any part of the garage to be shut down during very busy periods, like Thanksgiving, Christmas and spring break," Thomas says. "That required that we have three different mobilizations and demobilizations."
Even with the time constraints, WorldCover managed to complete the project on schedule. WorldCover also installed the arrival canopy at the airport in 2002, a Teflon-coated fiberglass structure. The parking canopies were designed to match the distinct arrival canopy at the front of the airport. "Tulsa wanted continuity with the canopies, so we designed canopies that offered a very high-end look," explains Thomas.
The canopies themselves are made of a fine mesh shade cloth that provides about 90 percent rainwater runoff and offers shade from the sun and shelter from damaging winds and hail.
Just after installation of the new canopy system was completed, Tulsa International got its first real test of the system when a violent storm ripped through the area. "Some people were concerned that the canopies wouldn't stand up to a strong storm," says Thomas. "But the first storm to come through had 80-mile an hour winds with it. Part of the airport's roof was actually torn off by the winds, but the canopy system remained intact."
Not only has the system proven itself durable and good protection from the elements for client cars, but it will soon lead to higher revenues for the airport. "This new service is in response to customer demand, and with the new service, Tulsa Airport Authority will be adjusting parking rates to reflect the differences in service levels in the airport parking system," says Morreale.
With customers providing positive feedback on a regular basis, Tulsa International has no doubt it did the right thing by adding the new canopy system to its garage. "We'll probably recoup our investment in just a few short years," says Morreale. "Customers are happy and so are we--this has been a worthwhile investment."