$15M Lake Hood hanger project embraces new design tech
Airport hangars are typically low-tech pieces of Alaska architecture designed to keep an airplane warm and safe from notorious winter weather.
A $15 million project at Lake Hood in Anchorage is introducing a new kind of flexible hangar design featuring moving walls and floating lofts in a three-phase hanger construction project off Aircraft Drive.
Steve Zelener, owner and developer of Lake Hood Hangars LLC, is employing new technology design materials to construct a more energy-efficient, space-saving expandable “box” hangar off Aircraft Drive on Lake Hood.
Two critical reasons meant Zelener and project manager Stormy Jarvis wanted to use new construction methods on the old box design.
One: There’s a hangar shortage at the largest seaplane airport in the world. There’s also a shortage of floatplane tie downs and there’s no room to build more. It’s so packed around Spenard Lake and Lake Hood that gaining a floatplane slip means it’s not unusual to sit on a waitlist 11 years before acquiring one.
Two: “There isn’t much land left to develop and what’s here is poor soil,” Jarvis said. Composed of 10 feet of peat and sand on top of clay, 30 percent to 50 percent of a project’s cost can easily be in just dirt and gravel fill.
Some 8,000 planes, including the large jets, utilize Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport. About 90 percent of those are small fixed wing or general aviation planes like the well-known bush planes of Twin Otters, Cessna, Pipers and Beavers.
“They’ve developed all the most desirable areas, and what’s left is the undesirable land,” Jarvis said.
Infill gravel and dirt costs on the 3.3 acres were nearly $1 million.
Given the lack of land, lateral and vertical design made sense. One concept no one else has employed in their hangar construction prior to the Lake Hood Hangars LLC is a floating mezzanine/loft that can be moved across the rafters to create more tail space or suspend planes in different configurations.
That’s because these hangars are built of four concrete walls atop 30-foot pilings.
“Hangars are typically made of metal, which means you had to have stronger rafters and the building would have to be taller and supported from the bottom, typically, not the top,” Zelener said.
Inside the concrete structures, they didn’t use the typical posts that take up space and constrain usage.
“One of the things that has taken extra time over the last couple of years,” Jarvis said, “is that we spent a lot of time really focusing on what the best designs would be. One of those, a big one, was being able to maximize the use of floor space and to do so was to eliminate posts or ways that made that floor space smaller.”
Each building features six hangars. Remote Alaska Solutions is the building contractor, which is set to finish the first phase in December. Over the next two years, the other two phases are slated to be completed that involve two more buildings for six hangars each.
“When we’re finished, the three buildings together will be able to fit up to 70 planes, depending on the size of the planes,” Zelener said.
Potentially 40 airplanes inside will be more likely, yet even that number frees up a lot of surface space at the airport.
The type of doors to be used are also new to the industry.
“What you see normally is doors operated using belts or cables. Having hydraulic doors gives the advantage because cables break and when that happens, you can’t lift those doors. A company has to come and lift your door and fix your cables. That’s one issue that happens,” Zelener said. “It becomes a continuous maintenance issue. Hydraulics shut the door completely themselves. They’re lighter weight, insulated and keep out the cold better. You can open them manually.”
The increase in usable space means multiple partners can lease a hangar, taking seaplanes out of the harsh winter elements as well as protect them from vandals. Dozens of planes at Merrill Field, the general aviation airport off Sixth Avenue, had their tires slashed last year.
Alaskans tend to keep their $10,000 cars in a garage, but all around the airport, airplanes worth $500,000 to $1 million are left out in the cold, Zelener notes.
More hangars were a crucial need at the airport for several years now, because if the planes’ owners had a choice, many would have preferred to keep them in a warm building. Insurance companies also prefer it, and depreciation on planes decreases when kept inside, he said.
The total three-phase project includes 71,620 square feet on the market for private or commercial lease, with the first phase mostly leased and customized. Each hangar offers 23,872 square feet with an interior wall height of 24 feet.
Starting at the foundation, Seth Kroenke, the president of Remote Alaska Solutions and project building manager, inlaid 13-inch insulated cast-in-place concrete and steel reinforced walls.
The hangar doors and exterior walls are done with thermal high efficient triple glazing to better retain heat. Radiant in-floor heat is fed by gas-fired boilers and individual hot water heaters rated for 96 percent high efficiency under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, building certification standards.
“You pay more on the front end of a project, but on the longer end, you save because the high cost of energy isn’t ignorable any more,” Zelenzer said.
Zelener points to a typical construction hangar off the offices at 4451 Aircraft Dr. where his office is located.
“Hangars are built cheaply of metal; the columns are bearing the walls and as they grow in height, there’s less room at the top than at the bottom; you might have 35 feet at the top and 50 feet of space at the bottom,” he said.
That’s a loss of 15 feet.
To keep that 15 feet of space for the better use of office lofts or plane suspension, Kroenke used the insulated concrete forms, or ICF, instead of a metal building’s super structure. The concrete and steel is supporting itself and it doesn’t need additional columns.
The inner walls can be moved because they are non-structural walls.
The walls inside the concrete outer structure divide into six separate lease spaces. These walls can be moved to accommodate a larger hangar space, if the lease calls for that, or a smaller one. One large hangar space can potentially hold six or even eight planes.
The location is also critical, Zelener figures. His hangar project gives access to the Anchorage airport runways via Taxiway Victor to the west or for taxi to the east on Lake Shore Taxi Lane.
In addition to the hangars, Zelener is making more floatplane slips available. Presently he leases nine in front of his offices off Aviation Drive. His private ramp can access the public water lane. There he is building nine more.
When the entire hangar project is finished, it will show a new embracing of technology for an iconic Alaskan structure, Jarvis said.
“Green technologies have been common in the states for 30 years or more, and it’s funny that the impression in Alaska is that renewable energy and innovative building technology isn’t embraced here. But it causes the most impact to help most of our projects,” she said.
Zelener Group, the real estate arm of Zelener’s companies, manages properties in Anchorage, Nome and Dutch Harbor. The Solar Building in downtown Anchorage at 441 W. 5th Ave. is one example, though Zelener didn’t design it. Currently, the building supplies about 15 percent of its own power for the five-story office complex. He owns the Nome Federal Building and the airport structures at Dutch Harbor.
In the long run, Zelener believes Alaskans have to get serious about energy efficiency and new ways to save time, space and money.
“We figured a new way to design a hangar is a good idea for a lot of reasons,” he said.
Naomi Klouda can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org