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Tilt-Up Construction Raises FedEx Center Virtually Overnight

Wed October 18, 2000 - Southeast Edition
Randy Southerland

The more than 1.5 million passengers who stream through Greenville-Spartanburg (GSP) International Airport each year seldom see the white planes with their brightly colored orange and blue logos. Landing at night, they carry a very different type of passenger — packages of every sort and description destined for the upper South Carolina region and beyond.

As the airport — located halfway between the cities of Greenville and Spartanburg — has attracted an ever-increasing number of commercial passengers through the 13 airlines that serve the area. It has also become an important cargo destination as well.

Federal Express, along with UPS, Emery Worldwide and Airborne Express, all make regular flights into the facility. To meet the increasing demands for air travel, GSP has embarked on a $100 million expansion program. The latest element is the construction of a Fed Ex sorting facility on the airport’s north end.

“Fed Ex has approximately 10,000 sq. ft. that’s rented in an existing air freight building and they needed more space,” said Larry Holcombe, airport deputy director. “Plus, they wanted to bring in larger aircraft and they did not have the aircraft parking ramps available at their present location.”

Construction on the new 120,000-sq. ft. (10,800-sq. m) facility began in late August, and airport and Fed Ex officials say it will go up rapidly in the next 12 months — in time for the company to move in equipment and begin operations around September 1, 2001.

Measuring 855 ft. (259.1 m) in length, 120 ft. (36.4 m) wide, and 32 ft (9.7 m) high when completed, the center consists of primarily open space for equipment to handle packages and a two story section of administrative offices at one end.

“It’s essentially a giant garage, although it’s more complex than that,” said Greg Palmer, Fed Ex project representative. “It will house the equipment that sorts these packages. They’re sorted here and then transported to a secondary facility where they’re put on the delivery trucks. Some of these centers are larger than others. Some serve several areas.”

The airport is building the $8-million facility, which Fed Ex will use under a 20-year lease. With additional road widening and parking lot expansion, the total cost of the project will top out at nearly $13 million, according to Holcombe.

Officials say the building will go up quickly.

“This is a tilt-up project,” said Palmer. “Instead of actually building the walls out of block or pouring them out of concrete or placing them with brick, or framing them out of wood like a house, they are cast in a concrete plant to a certain specification and then you tilt the walls up.”

The pre-cast walls are literally brought to the site on a truck where they can be lifted off and put into place. The construction method allows a project to be completed quickly at a reduced cost.

“There’s a steel frame skeleton on the inside of the building that carries the structural loads and the roof loads,” said Leo Smith, GSP’s engineer. “The pre-cast is a structural element, but it’s also an aesthetic element as well. The finish and the color are the same material that was used in the parking garages that are located here at the airport. That was the desire of the airport — that any buildings be compatible with the other structures on the airport. Even though we’re quite removed from them, eventually as the airport develops they want to make sure it’s all compatible.”

“You stand up some columns — whether you make your columns out of concrete or whether they’re structural steel really doesn’t matter,” explained Palmer. “You bring them out, stand them up, and start slapping up the wall panels. It’s a pretty standard building. You usually build those when you want them fast and you’ve got quite a large space and it’s not supposed to be super impressive in terms of people living inside. It’s pretty much suited for exactly what they’re using it for.”

Dan Blackwell, project manager with contractor Beers York Construction Company, says the project will require 129 tons (116.1 t) of rebar, 500 tons (450 t) of steel, and nearly 3000 yds. (2,743.2 m) of concrete by the time it is done.

Crews began sub-surface excavation and installation of sewage pipes along with footings and rebar placement in late July.

Although relatively little of the project is now out of the ground, the first tentative steps in the process began more than three years ago when Federal Express approached airport administrators about securing more space outside the area they currently rented at the airport.

“We identified an area at the north end of the airport that we had designated for future cargo development,” said Holcombe. “They agreed with the location because it has perfect road access and runway access.”

The cargo area is currently located near the air carrier apron where expansion of passenger service has limited space, despite a tripling of terminal space to 226,000 sq. ft. (20,340 sq. m) in 1990.

The construction of this new sorting facility represents another step forward in the development of GSP. Already the regional passenger hub for upstate South Carolina, it is now gaining increasing importance as a major cargo center as more and more planes loaded not with people, but packages, fill the skies.

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