BY WILLIAM ATKINSON
SPECIAL TO CONTRACTOR

NEW YORK — Although the new American Airlines terminal project at JFK began in 1999, all four phases are not expected to be completed until 2007. The terminal is huge, with 37 jet gates and 18 commuter gates. The end result will be an 1.84 million-sq.-ft. terminal with three complete concourses that can accommodate 14 million passengers a year. The passenger check-in area is the size of Giants Stadium.

In designing the terminal, the architects wanted clean, modern lines as well as functional space. So, despite the size of the facility, the utilities have to be squeezed into as little space as possible.

This includes the fire sprinkler system that also had to meet the state's new seismic codes. The sprinkler job fell to SIRINA Fire Protection Corp. in Garden City Park, N.Y.

"The American Airlines terminal looks like a lot of other terminals, in that they designed it to look like a wing," said David McMahon, senior project manager, who has been with SIRINA for six years and heads up all the company's Kennedy airport projects. "There were three expansion joints in the building that needed to be crossed and that had to meet New York's seismic code requirements."

The wing-like design of the building requires extra movementand flexibility beyond the seismic requirements. The reason is the anticipated rise and fall of the facility's roof from wind and snow. High winds across the roofline are expected to raise the roofline by up to 5 in., and snow loading could cause the roof to compress downward by as much as 1 in.

"The problem we ran into was that there was nothing we knew about that we could put in there that would look aesthetically pleasing," McMahon told CONTRACTOR.

Traditional seismic joints are large and generally unattractive in that they must be complex enough to allow for movement in all directions. The conventional six-elbow breaks would not look good in this building because its wing design had no real ceilings in the main area, he said. In addition, traditional joints would have difficulty meeting the requirements of the roof rising and falling due to wind and snow.

Faced with these challenges, McMahon researched alternatives. He discovered a product called Fireloop expansion joints, manufacturedby Metraflex. "They are made of braided metal over a rubber-type hose, with steel connections on each end, using clamps," he explained. "We got some samples and realized they would work, so we used them."

The joints are capable of plus/minus 4 in. to plus/minus 8 in. of movement in all directions and can fit snugly up in ceilings and behind walls, the manufacturer said. While this type of flexibility was suitable for most of the facility, SIRINA still needed to have some special Fireloops manufactured that would accommodate up to 12 in. of movement. The extra movement and flexibility, as noted earlier, was required because of the anticipated rise and fall of the facility from wind and snow in addition to seismic code requirements.

Although SIRINA experienced no problems during the installation with the product itself, the contractor encountered a challenge in making sure that it could get to the actual expansion joints, McMahon said.

"In some cases, we had problems with block walls on either side of where we needed to work, so openings had to be made for that," he noted.

Overall, McMahon reports a very quick and simple installation. As part of an earlier project, when SIRINA had done work on Terminal 4 at JFK, it had used the six-elbow breaks.

"Fireloops were much easier to install and much more aesthetically pleasing than the six-elbow breaks," he said. "And because of the ease of installation, this meant a cost savings for us.

"We ended up being able to conceal them behind ceilings, so they wouldn't have been seen anyway. However, it took a lot of time to install them."

SIRINA will have more projects coming up at JFK where it will run into similar situations and where it plans to use the Fireloop joints, McMahon said.

"One possibility is the new JetBlue terminal," he said.