CMTA Leads Louisville Airport Project to Great Results

CMTA Consulting Engineers
Written by William Young

Multi-service engineering firm CMTA Consulting Engineers was formed in Lexington, Kentucky, in 1968 by three founders. They created an engineering company that has evolved to focus on sustainable design and to improve the built environment through both consulting engineering and performance contracting. Together, the minds behind CMTA have made great things happen over the last nearly 55 years, as the company has become the leader in high-performance building and data-driven designs.

According to Partner and Project Manager Tom Nicolas, CMTA doesn’t just design systems and walk away; it backs its designs up with real data and continuously uses this information to improve each project.

Electrical Engineer and Principal, Kevin Sandrella, believes that success springs from the very culture of CMTA, one of individual empowerment and success as well as overall excellence. “It’s about hiring the best people in the industry and letting them be great.”

CMTA’s identity in the industry has become centered on its approaches to energy efficiency and data-driven design work. And the challenge to be different has helped it create a niche ahead of its time, even today. A more holistic approach to its work allows the company and its teams to be seen more as true project partners than just service providers.

The company understands that sustainability goes beyond engineering and looks to act as a collaborative member of the design team to ensure the whole building design is optimized. CMTA is committed to using its experience and data to inform the multi-faceted design and implementation process to maximize long-term sustainability results. This team approach results in positive outcomes by allowing the MEP design team to implement multiple value-added methods such as right-sizing HVAC system sizes.

A project CMTA is proud of and is a testament to its overall vision is its ongoing project with the Louisville Regional Airport Authority (LRAA) and its work on the terminal improvement program for Louisville Muhammad Ali International Airport (SDF). The project began in 2015 with Phase 1, which included decorative lighting and $8 million in flooring replacement. In 2018, CMTA was asked to assess the terminal MEP infrastructure and provide recommendations to support capital planning in alignment with a concurrent master plan.

CMTA’s team theorized that a geothermal well system would better replace a more traditional HVAC system. After completing extensive analyses of HVAC renovation options, the LRAA and CMTA team decided that a 100 percent ground source geothermal heat pump system (GTHP) was the optimal long-term direction for the airport. This analysis found that this would provide the long-term carbon reduction, energy cost savings, maintenance benefits, and resiliency the airport was seeking. The final HVAC project, which is currently being implemented, will result in the nation’s most extensive airport geothermal HVAC system and is a point of pride for LRAA and CMTA.

Sandrella remembers LRAA authorities specifically called on CMTA for its creative approach to a project, as they appreciated its attitude of using great people to build great jobs. However, it is not simply the effort of the company that made it happen but, emphatically, the partnership between CMTA and the LRAA that brought it together.

Sandrella is adamant that the project’s success has been due to the client’s forward-thinking and trusting approach, which has allowed CMTA to do what it does best. The LRAA’s commitment to sustainability and to “being the best” – a motto of the airport – was highlighted as they decided to use the airfield with tarmac over top of it to build a geo-well field to support the vision for the airport’s renovations.

The design itself has involved a complete replacement of all lighting and controls as well as complete HVAC systems, central plant replacement, systems controls, and advanced metering and monitoring. Tom Nicolas notes that systems are also being implemented to improve efficiency going forward. “This building is truly going to be something spectacular when it’s done.”

Not only does the project promise a great future for Kentucky air travel, but it also carries exciting implications for the future of the industry. Partner Dave Mayer explains that “utilizing a team that not only understands design and construction, but that also has proven expertise in sustainability, will lead to great results. And LRAA’s foresight to use this approach will allow the airport to continue to further its mission to be the best in the country.”

This project proves that although airports are typically thought of as a high-energy use building type, they can be just as sustainable as other building types. And bringing that idea to Louisville will allow the airport to become one of the best in the country.

Airport design and construction is a notoriously competitive field. On typical projects, some of the first things that are often removed from the project are sustainability initiatives. Most industries, airports included, have ambitious sustainability goals, but integrating these initiatives into design and construction projects is seen as too complicated, expensive, and slow. As budgets and timelines get tight, they are often trimmed down or eliminated.

This is a notion CMTA looks to challenge as it has proven it doesn’t have to be the case. The company is on a mission to rethink infrastructure from the ground up and further prove that sustainability initiatives don’t have to be sacrificed in a well-executed project design and implementation process. The completion of the airport project will act as further proof-of-concept, and it will hopefully open the floodgates for other airports to follow, especially as there are governmental incentives and funding available to support sustainable building efforts.

CMTA is grateful to SDF, which has been “fantastic to work with,” Nicolas adds, mentioning that so have people like Executive Director Dan Mann, Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Brian Sinnwell, Director of Operations, and Business Development, Megan Thoben, and partner architects Alliiance and Stengel-Hill Architecture. A collaborative approach is only truly successful when all parties offer their best, which CMTA proudly asserts has been the case here.

With the continued push for sustainable design and construction, both from end-users and through federal programs, CMTA fills a market void as a trusted partner and creative problem solver. Through its integrated approach, which focuses on transparency, value, and maximum efficiency, CMTA provides the specialized services required to bring a client’s construction and sustainability goals to fruition regardless of how ambitious they may be. If anything, the company is driven by the fact that, to prospective clients, its approach sounds almost too good to be true. However, its proven results, backed by data, demonstrate the long-term benefits of its approach.

Kevin Sandrella firmly believes that the results and impact of the work done by CMTA will last for decades and far exceed any project cost. “What we do will make a huge difference, which is hard to communicate at a proposal level.”

CMTA’s primary focus for all projects is client satisfaction above all else. As such, the company prioritizes world-class results on every project it touches to ensure quality is never sacrificed as the company continues to grow at a phenomenal pace. As this growth persists, a focus is to keep the company’s internal culture alive as much positivity is shared throughout the workplace, and employees enjoy coming to work.

Sandrella affirms that nothing is out of reach for the company with over half a century under its belt and no end in sight. “We are driven by projects that challenge the conventional way of doing things and are thankful for clients that let us take these on with unconventional solutions.”



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