Big Happenings in "Little" El
Construction Activity Running for the Border
With close to $1 billion in construction
projects authorized in two El Paso school districts and city
projects, locals are concerned about finding enough construction
companies to take on all the work.
A flood of public money, combined with an improving economy,
should have construction firms swamped with work in El Paso
for years to come.
Voters recently passed $1.2 billion in school district and
city bonds for education, city services and quality-of-life
facilities. The work will add to the construction activity
that has been mounting for several years.
In 2002 the El Paso Building Services Department issued 208
new commercial construction permits collectively valued at
$173.7 million, the highest total in the city's history. That
was in addition to $169.9 million in permits for single-family
homes and $25 million for duplexes and multifamily complexes.
These numbers are expected to continue to rise, according
to the Waco-based Perryman Group, an economic and financial
analysis firm. Even before this year's bond elections, Perryman
estimated that El Paso's construction market would be worth
$444 million in 2004, up from $415 million in 2000. Projections
show that construction spending will rise through at least
In February voters authorized $114 million in city bonds
for 11 propositions, including flood control, streets and
drainage, emergency and health services, libraries and municipal
facilities that include 10 park projects.
A provision was also passed that earmarks two percent of
the bonds for public arts. The intent is to encourage the
integration of art into the architecture of new city buildings.
A more immediate impact on the city's construction outlook
is coming from spending of quality-of-life bonds passed by
El Paso voters in 2000. The $141 million in bonds has resulted
in 95 projects ranging from landscaping to a new history museum.
About $100 million in quality-of-life projects is being managed
for the city by Perspectiva-3D/I (known as P+3), a joint venture
between Perspectiva, a local architectural and construction
management firm, and Houston-based 3D/International, a national
construction management and design firm.
The quality-of-life projects are on a fast track, said Juan
Contreras, program manager for P+3.
"We were hired in 2003 by the city to compress the original
10-year schedule into seven years," Contreras said. "Since
three years had already been lost, our mandate is to get the
work done in four years. Most of the work we are responsible
for is in motion, and our goal is to finish by the end of
2006. At this point, we are optimistic that we can meet that
P+3 has been charged with taking $100 million in projects
from inception to completion.
Of the projects being managed by P+3, eight percent are complete,
20 percent are in the design stage, seven percent are under
construction, seven percent are being bid out and five percent
are in the selection process for architecture and engineering.
The remaining 54 percent are in the scoping and development
Top priority for P+3 is to get all major projects under way.
The most significant is Cleveland Square, a two-city-block
project downtown that will double the size of the main library,
build a history museum and create a park plaza to link the
The history museum will include 40,000 sq. ft. covering two
stories. Ground broke on the project in late March, and Silverton
General Contractors of El Paso is negotiating with the city
to take on construction oversight.
About 45,000 sq. ft. covering two stories will be added to
the existing main library in addition to extensive remodeling.
Silverton General Contractors also is expected to oversee
The El Paso Zoo will receive a major facelift from three
projects totaling $22 million in construction.
An architecture and engineering team for the expansion of
the zoo is expected to be selected this month.
In the coming months, P+3 will select architectural and engineering
design teams to begin work on 50 park projects such as the
$5 million Westside Sports Complex, which will boast at least
six soccer fields and four softball fields. Additional bond-related
construction will ramp up three area school districts. In
January the Socorro Independent School District was approved
for $188.7 million in bonds. One of the fastest-growing school
districts in the state, Socorro ISD serves Socorro, Horizon
City and the eastern part of El Paso.
Its current population of 32,000 students is expected to
increase to at least 50,000 by 2010. Enrollment could even
top 80,000 in the next decade, according to school district
The bonds allow for the construction of nine new schools,
including two combination campuses each with two schools,
two prekindergarten through eighth-grade facilities, an expandable
ninth-grade campus, a high school and an alternative-education
school. Other new facilities will include an education center
to house central office staff and an ROTC firing range. About
$19.5 million will be spent on renovations and additions and
$14.4 million on improvements and repairs.
Last fall, the El Paso ISD got approval to issue $207.4 million
in bonds for construction and renovations including two new
elementary schools and a new middle school. One high school
will see its historic theater get a $1 million makeover, while
two others will receive new 1,000-seat theaters. Construction
management duties were awarded to El Paso-based C.F. Jordan
In the Lower Valley and northeast communities of El Paso,
the Ysleta ISD will begin spending the $250 million in bonds
approved by voters in January. Because 60 percent of its schools
were constructed prior to 1970, the district faces overcrowding,
malfunctioning HVAC systems, pests, problematic electrical
systems and leaky roofs.
The district's top priority is replacing five or six existing
schools with new facilities and constructing a new campus
in the Del Valle area.
"We are moving very quickly," said Larry Trejo,
executive director for Ysleta ISD. "We are doing all
the planning and looking at various construction methodologies.
Some smaller projects will move forward this year, but new
schools or large additions probably will not move forward
"The biggest challenge is going to be finding contractors
to do all of the work. Between the city of El Paso and two
other school districts, about $1 billion in construction is
authorized at this time. I'm not sure how we'll find enough
companies to get the projects we need completed."
Jim Carpenter, a project manager for C.F. Jordan, said the
key shortage is in masonry contractors.
"We're fortunate to have some very good mechanical,
electrical and plumbing subcontractors on our projects at
this time," Carpenter added. "But most school districts
want masonry walls, and there are only so many masons in town.
All of the housing construction going on can quickly lead
to a shortage of qualified masons."
New security strategies prompt airport
Another major public project currently under way is at the
El Paso International Airport and is designed to meet the
new challenges of airport security. The $3.9 million project
includes a partial building demolition, renovation and a two-story
addition to the passenger terminal building. This new structure
will house a passenger meet-and-greet area and a consolidated
security screening checkpoint.
The project was conceived before Sept. 11, 2001, but underwent
a major overhaul after the terrorist attacks. Because the
design process had a head start, the airport's consolidated
security checkpoint, which opens in July, is expected to be
the first of its kind in the nation, said Patrick Abeln, the
airport's director of aviation.
"The project grew three times the size of the preliminary
design," Abeln added. "We believe it's innovative
and may become a model for other airports."
Under the new design, all security screening will be conducted
at a single entry point.
"Every piece of security equipment and security official
will serve every gate and every passenger," Abeln said.
"The impact will be massive in terms of efficiency for
The new checkpoint is designed to handle a much heavier traffic
flow than the current 3.5 million passengers who use the airport
"It's designed to grow into the 4.5-million range while
retaining a high level of efficiency," Abeln said.
El Paso-based Moore Nordell Kroeger Architects Inc. designed
the 26,000-sq.-ft. addition to match the terminal's most recent
makeover, which the firm conceived in the late 1990s. Some
features are reminiscent of mid-century airports. The glassed-in
meet-and-greet area offers a sweeping view where visitors
can watch the airfield action.
"We wanted to pay tribute to our aviation heritage and
create a retro look and signage that really stands out,"
The new addition features the same copper, stainless steel
and granite finishes as the existing terminal, giving it a
unique, high-end appearance, said Carpenter, the project manager
for C.F Jordan.
"It's a beautiful design and will be a great addition
to the city," he added. "El Paso is commonly thought
of as a small town, but it really isn't any more."
Abeln said it has been difficult performing construction
at an airport, but "the contractors have done an excellent
job at keeping the project moving and not affecting passengers
during the construction process."
New high-tech scanning facility will
increase border security
Public money is funding another security project on the Texas-Mexico
border at the Ysleta Port of Entry Inspection Station. Details
of the project are not being released, but the structure-a
Pulsed Fast Neutron Analysis facility-is being tested in El
Paso and may be replicated at ports of entry around the United
The PFNA facility will allow U.S. Bureau of Customs and Border
Protection officials to look inside cargo trucks using high-tech
X-ray-type imaging without opening the vehicles, much less
off-loading and re-loading cargo as is currently required.
The PFNA is capable of discovering contraband-even in fully
loaded trucks-while expediting border inspection operations.
C.F. Jordan began construction in October and a fast-track
schedule saw completion in March. The cost was about $13.5
million with about $3.4 million of that going toward the building
to house the PFNA equipment.
"We have the technology to detect and interdict at our
borders every known kind of commercial or homemade explosive
including dirty bombs and other nuclear weapons, conventional
bombs, liquid explosives or chemical weapons as well as drugs,"
said Patrick Shea, COO of Ancore Corp., the California-based
company that developed the PFNA technology. "We will
be working diligently with the [Department of Defense] and
the U.S. Customs Service to demonstrate just how safe, efficient
and accurate the PFNA truck inspection can be."
"This is a pilot program that will be tested for one
year," said Carpenter, who served as project manger for
the facility. "Ancore is going to run it for part of
a year, and then turn it over to the Department of Defense
or the General Services Administration. Once it has proven
itself, they are going to start building these in seaports,
on the Canadian and Mexican borders at every international
bridge and at airports."
The federal government has been considering implementing
the technology since the mid-1990s. While tests have found
the equipment effective, it isn't known how efficiently the
technology can be in a real-life setting.
The 54,000-sq.-ft. prefabricated metal building includes
cast-in-place concrete walls that surround the PFNA equipment
and act as a protective shield against radiation.
"We created a concrete building and then put up a prefabricated
metal building around it," said Carpenter. "There
are close to 4,000 cu. yds. of concrete on this project for
site paving and the concrete structure. And a lot of heavy-duty
rebar went into it.
"The concrete was specially designed to resist radiation
from neutrons," he added. "A lot of radiation shielding
was involved, and we built walls 18 -in.ches thick for radiation
shielding. Some of the concrete walls were 2- feet. and 6
in.ches thick. It also took quite a bit of structural steel
to create the tunnel."
A truck is pulled into the PFNA facility by a robot truck,
coming to rest behind the radiation shield. The truck is then
exposed to short pulses of fast neutrons. In response, the
truck and its cargo emit gamma rays, which are collected by
detectors located throughout the facility.
Through analysis of these gamma rays, the PFNA technology
generates a three-dimensional map of the truck's cargo, which
is displayed on a computer screen. The system can identify
a variety of contraband and display its location. Detection
does not rely on shape and is immune to diligent packaging.
In addition to the scanning tunnel, the facility includes
an accelerator room, storage room and a waiting room for drivers.
Rising enrollment spurs work at UTEP
At the University of Texas at El Paso, a commitment to an
unusual style of architecture has dominated the design of
two new buildings and the renovation of a third.
Considered one of the few examples of Himalayan Bhutanese
architecture outside of its birthplace, UTEP has remained
true to the style since its first buildings were erected in
1917. Features of the architectural style include massive
buildings with high, inward-sloping exterior walls and varying
rooflines. Walls traditionally are white, with few or no windows
in the lower sections of buildings. Three major projects are
currently under way that continue the Bhutanese tradition
on the campus. All broke ground in June and are collectively
worth $44 million.
Replacing a facility that is half its size, the new Academic
Services Building comprises 52,600 sq. ft. and will house
all student services under one roof, including testing and
admissions. The expansion is driven by UTEP's growing enrollment,
which climbed to a record 18,500 last year.
The building will feature an entryway sporting a glass rotunda
and two stair towers with glass mandalas, affording a 360-degree
view of campus. Structural steel was erected in March and
the slab poured in April. HVAC, plumbing and electrical work
are under way, and completion is expected in January, said
Shaun Wood, project manager for the project's general contractor,
Sambrano Corp. of El Paso.
"Bhutanese architecture is extremely interesting,"
Wood said. "Among all the building projects on campus,
there is a variety of exterior finishes that all fit with
the architectural style of the university's buildings."
The student services building has an exterior insulation
and finish system, or EIFS. Sheathing is placed over the metal
studs followed by Styrofoam that is overlaid by plaster and
a color finish.
"It looks like pre-cast concrete, but it can be cut
into and easily adapted," Wood said. "It's much
more forgiving than pre-cast and easier to fix if errors are
The Bhutanese style calls for exterior walls that are slanted
inward, with and each floor being slightly smaller than the
one beneath it.
"To get the walls to slope correctly, each floor had
to shrink as went go up," Wood said. "We actually
had to slant the studs, too, to make this happen. I've never
worked on a project before where studs in exterior walls are
slanted at a crazy degree."
Also under construction is UTEP's new Bioscience Research
Building, a $27 million, five-story 100,000-sq.-ft. facility
that will house the Border Biomedical and Health Sciences
Research Center. Sambrano Corp. is the general contractor
project's, which is expected to reach completion next year.
A 44,200-sq.-ft., three-level addition to the existing Engineering
Building, one of four interconnected structures in the Engineering/Science
complex, will provide space for the dean's office, department
offices and faculty offices. El Paso-based Banes General Contractors
is working to complete the $7 million addition in time for
the fall semester.