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A conversation with Pat McCollom

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Sunday, April 13, 2014, at 12 a.m.

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As a child growing up in Chicago, Pat McCollom was inspired by the city’s skyscrapers to seek a profession that allowed him to build and create.

As program manager of the new terminal building at Wichita Mid-Continent Airport, McCollom oversees construction and preparation of its opening in spring 2015.

“To go from paper to reality – that’s the reason why I do what I do,” McCollom said.

McCollom is with AECOM, a private engineering company that is managing construction of the terminal.

He also conducts tours and presentations to groups about the building.

In his career, McCollom has traveled the country and to Guam rebuilding airport runways, parking and taxiways and working to rehabilitate and expand terminal buildings.

One of the major projects with which he was involved was rebuilding Taxiway K at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport.

He also was project manager at Chicago O’Hare International Airport for the building of a new runway, 9 Left. It was the first new runway at O’Hare in 37 years.

McCollom went on to work on major projects at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport before coming to Wichita.

McCollom, who earned a civil engineering degree from the University of Illinois, came to Wichita in May 2011 to oversee construction of the new terminal.

He and his wife, Loni, have three children, 11, 9 and 5.

When he’s not working, he likes to spend time with his family and travel.

What is your biggest challenge in working on the new terminal?

There’s hundreds of people that work on the project. They’re very talented people. But all the hundred people have an idea and an opinion. It’s the balancing of all those great minds, great thoughts in achieving the common goal.

What’s most satisfying about the project?

As an engineer, creating is without question the most satisfying part. ... That’s the reason I went into the profession.

What’s your favorite part of the new terminal building?

My favorite part is the Great Hall. I think that’s the most striking. ... It will be beautiful. ...We (also) have glass loading bridges coming. The loading bridges are glass walled. They’re very unique.

What’s the best thing about the terminal that the public won’t see?

It’s going to be the computer systems. The second would be the in-line baggage system that the (Transportation Safety Administration) TSA will have. It’s an intelligent building. The new network that will have the new telephone systems, the new security systems ... how that all works will be fantastic.

One of the questions you get asked the most about is the wall of glass along the entrance. Is it safe from weather?

The front of the building first is protected with a barrier wall. Behind the barrier wall is the glass walls. The glass walls are glass resistant. Many of the front windows are blast resistant. They’re 1 3/8 inches thick of multiple laminated layers of tempered glass. They’re able to withstand 100 mph winds.

The terminal was designed to reflect Wichita’s aviation heritage. How will it do that?

From an aesthetic point of view, there’s an aviation theme associated with the new building – from the shape of the roof in the front meant to emulate wings to the inbeds in the terrazzo floor that will be in the terminal in the mezzanine and the concourse. There are inbeds in the terrazzo that are meant to look like contrails. The ceiling elements are meant to look like a porthole in the interior fuselage of a plane. (And a dichroic glass art piece by Ed Carpenter) has a swooping feel to it – an aerodynamic feel. History of aviation pieces celebrate Wichita’s aviation history.

Of all the projects you’ve worked on, what was one of your most memorable?

The tent at Denver’s terminal – the big white roof when you’re in the main terminal. It’s an atrium that’s 150 feet tall. There are 34 columns that support that roof. At the top of each of those columns is a crow’s nest and in the crow’s nest are fans and roof hatches. If there’s smoke or fire in the building, those pop open for smoke evacuation. What the project was, was replacing the access system of the crow’s nest – these cables that dropped from the ceiling. You climb the cable in a basket. The basket had a motorized component to it that climbed the cable. It was that system that I had to replace. It was 150 feet up in the air and you had to climb out of a basket and hang cables. ... It’s kind of intimidating.

You were at first apprehensive about leaving Florida to come to Wichita for the project. Now that you’re here, what do you think?

The people are wonderful; they’re the kindest, nicest people. ... The project is absolutely fantastic. Those were the two largest selling points. The Midwestern attitude is the thing that jumps out – simply holding the door open to another person; looking at someone smiling. That doesn’t happen everywhere. There’s a friendliness and a trust of people that you get here.

On the flip side?

I hate the wind. The only place I’ve encountered worst with wind is Wyoming.

What’s one thing not many people know about you?

“I am pretty shy. In my position, I would consider myself an introvert. Outside of work, I don’t talk to a lot of people.”

Reach Molly McMillin at 316-269-6708 or mmcmillin@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @mmcmillin.

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