PORTLAND – Beyond the geothermal heating and cooling system, beyond the sky bridge and the high-tech baggage handling system, Portland International Jetport’s terminal expansion is being conducted with one simple goal in mind: to move people.

That’s the message that Roy Williams, the airport’s deputy director, kept emphasizing to a group of architects Wednesday during a tour of the new building, which is still under construction.

From a parking garage entryway that will allow passengers to move quickly from their cars to the gate, to a system that in five minutes takes their bags, scans them for security and loads them onto a cart headed to their plane, the focus is on movement. That continues right down to an art installation consisting of an LED display that suggests motion by emitting rippling light visible both inside the terminal and to people in cars driving in, Williams said.

The terminal is a beehive of movement as dozens of workers install wiring, work on escalators and weld steel stairs together. They’ve even stacked dozens of bags of luggage behind what will be the airlines’ ticket counters, ready for a dry run to make sure the federally funded baggage system works well.

Williams noted that the $75 million expansion, which will double the size of the existing terminal, aims to correct smaller expansions over the years that “kept adding problems to problems.”

One reason is that the older part of the terminal was built at a time when security was much less of a concern. For instance, the Transportation Security Administration’s scanners for checked baggage sit in front of the ticket counters in the old section of the terminal. Passengers hand their bags to TSA workers, who then move the luggage onto a belt that takes it into the handling area.

Under the new system, the bags will go from the ticket counters into an out-of-sight handling area, where they will pass through one of three scanners. Suspicious bags, Williams said, will be automatically kicked onto a different conveyor belt to take them to TSA workers in another room for further inspection.

If bags get backed up going through one scanner, Williams said, the system will sense it and route them to the second. If that one slows down, the third will kick into action.

“It’s constantly thinking, if that’s the right word,” he said.

While that system is largely in place, much more work lies ahead before officials cut a ribbon on Sept. 30, followed by an open house on Oct. 1. At 4 a.m. on Oct. 2, the terminal goes “live.”

For instance, a concession area still has blank drywall where there will soon be a Linda Bean’s Perfect Maine store selling lobster rolls, along with the obligatory Burger King and Starbucks. The second-floor food court will include a glass wall that will give passengers a chance to wave goodbye to relatives and friends in a large lobby near the ticket counters one floor below.

The 25 members of the Portland Society of Architects who toured the new building said jetport and city officials did a good job softening the utilitarian nature of the building with some warm touches, such as a high ceiling crisscrossed by huge wooden beams. Concrete columns supporting the ceiling branch off into three arms, which will be lit from below.

The area beyond the security gates is especially large, giving people more room to put their shoes back on and gather their carry-on belongings before heading to a boarding gate.

Joan Pesirla, an architect with PDT Architects in Portland, said the high ceiling will make the terminal feel less congested to travelers when it is busy.

“It has a great gesture,” she said, explaining that the building is very welcoming. “I don’t think I’ll be as stressed flying.” 

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

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